(from Hollywood Park report)
Although he will be saddling a horse in England on Saturday, trainer Jeff Mullins will hold a strong hand in a pair of graded stakes races at Hollywood Park that day: The Californian (gr. II) with Choctaw Nation and the Affirmed (gr. III) with Buzzards Bay.
Choctaw Nation will be making his first start since a third-place finish in the $6 million Dubai World Cup on March 26. The stretch-running specialist faces seven rivals in the $250,000 Californian at 1 1/8 miles, final stepping-stone to the track's signature race, the $750,000 Hollywood Gold Cup (gr. I) on July 9.
Buzzards Bay, the winner of this year's Santa Anita Derby, will be making his first start since a fifth-place finish in the May 7 Kentucky Derby (gr. I). The chestnut colt carries high weight of 122 pounds among six 3-year-olds in the $100,000 Affirmed Handicap at 1 1/16 miles, final local prep to the $400,000 Swaps Breeders' Cup Stakes (gr. II) on Gold Cup Day.
Victor Espinoza rides both Mullins trainees, who will be saddled by assistants. Mullins will be at York to race Mighty Beau in a stakes at the Royal Ascot meet earlier in the day.
A 5-year-old gelding who began his career at 4 last year, Choctaw Nation won his first five starts with dramatic rallies, including the San Diego Handicap (gr. II) at Del Mar, before running fourth in the Pacific Classic (gr. I). The bay Florida-bred owned by Robert Bone has earned $910,800 from five wins in eight career starts.
Ace Blue will attempt to join Spectacular Bid (1980), Eleven Stitches (1981), Another Review (1992), and Even the Score (2004) as the only horses to win both the Mervyn LeRoy Handicap (gr. II) and the Californian. Only Eleven Stitches swept those two stakes and the Hollywood Gold Cup.
A Brazilian-bred trained by Jerry Hollendorfer for Sid and Jenny Craig, Ace Blue is riding a three-race win streak that includes the May 14 LeRoy. The 5-year-old, who has won seven of his 14 starts, likes to race on or near the lead and figures as the likely target for Choctaw Nation in the stretch run.
Borrego, the beaten favorite in the Mervyn LeRoy when third, a neck behind Ace Blue, also rates as a major contender in the Californian.$250,000 Californian (gr. II, Race 5, 3:37 p.m.), 3 & up, 1 1/8 miles
PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight
1. Ace Blue, David Flores, 118
2. Skukuza, Rene Douglas, 116
3. Keep On Punching, Tyler Baze, 116
4. Molengao, Alex Solis, 116
5. Borrego, Garrett Gomez, 116
6. Lava Blue, Patrick Valenzuela, 116
7. Anziyan Royalty, Corey Nakatani, 116
8. Choctaw Nation, Espinoza, 116
Owned by Fog City Stable, Buzzards Bay went off at odds of 30-1 when providing Mullins with his third successive Santa Anita Derby longshot triumph. Buzzards Bay's career record of 3-1-2 in nine starts has generated earnings of $619,440.
The major opposition to Buzzards Bay is expected to be lightly-raced Surf Cat, who will be racing beyond 6 1/2 furlongs for the first time in four starts. Trained and co-owned by Bruce Headley, Surf Cat dominated an allowance event at Hollywood Park on May 15 with a 4 1/2-length victory while timed in 1:14 2/5 for 6 1/2 furlongs. He has won two of his four starts while second in the other pair.
The six-horse field features four Florida breds – Dover Dere, Indian Ocean, Khyber Pass, and Buzzards Bay.$100,000 Affirmed Handicap (gr. III, Race 9, 5:37 p.m.), 3-year-olds, 1 1/16 miles
1. Dover Dere, Patrick Valenzuela, 116
2. Indian Ocean, Jon Court, 115
3. Khyber Pass, David Flores, 114
4. Surf Cat, Alex Solis, 116
5. Sultry Bard, David Cohen, 108
6. Buzzards Bay, Victor Espinoza, 122