Red Fort Surrounded in Whittingham 'Cap

(from Hollywood Park report)
Neil Drysdale, who has trained three of the past seven winners of the Charles Whittingham Memorial Handicap (gr. IT), saddles the likely favorite Red Fort in Saturday's wide open $350,000 renewal Saturday.

Drysdale has also entered the hard-hitting 8-year-old Sarafan, a grade I winner with earnings of more than $2.6 million, in the 1 1/4-mile test over the Hollywood Park turf.

Red Fort, a relatively lightly-raced 5-year-old Irish-bred gelding with a modest bankroll of $154,442, posseses what is regarded as a major upside.

Off strong efforts in his two United States starts since arriving from Great Britain earlier this year, Red Fort should be a slight favorite among the nine entrants.

Red Fort was beaten by a nose when rallying boldly for second behind stablemate King of Happiness in the Inglewood Handicap (gr. IIIT) on April 30. He defeated Castledale in his U.S. bow on March 17 at Santa Anita. The class of these two was validated when Castledale edged King of Happiness in the Shoemaker Breeders' Cup Mile (gr. IT) on May 30.

Owned by Walter Swinburn, father of the celebrated English jockey of the same name, Red Fort has posted a 4-2-1 record in 11 starts between England and the U.S.

Stablemate Sarafan, who has won 10 of 46 career starts, is coming off a subpar effort in the May 14 Jim Murray Memorial Handicap (gr. IIIT), finishing seventh while attempting the 12-furlong distance for the first time.

Sweet Return was assigned high weight of 119 pounds in the Whittingham. While having earned over $1 million, the 5-year-old trained by Ron McAnally has gone winless in his last eight starts following three successive victories that included the 2003 Hollywood Derby (gr. IT).

Jockey Patrick Valenzuela, injured in a spill on May 9, returns to riding on Saturday and his mounts include Whittingham contestant Vangelis, second to Runaway Dancer in the Jim Murray. Pellegrino, sole resident of trainer Don Burke's one-horse stable, finished sixth in the Murray after having captured the Hollywood Turf Cup (gr. IT) in December.

Gary Tanaka owns both Sarafan and Pellegrino but Hollywood Park has received permission from the California Horse Racing Board to uncouple horses for wagering purposes in the remaining grade I races at the spring/summer meeting.

Drysdale, Burke and Laura de Seroux, who starts Just Wonder in the Whittingham, were all former assistants to the legendary trainer before his death in 1999.

De Seroux said Thursday from her training base at San Luis Rey Downs that she thirsts for a victory with Just Wonder, a 5-year-old who finished third in the Whittingham last year.

"I would probably like to win this race more than any other," said de Seroux, an exercise rider for Whittingham from 1975-89. "It's more sentimental than material.

"All his little one-liners take on greater significance as I gain more training experience," added de Seroux. "Sayings like, 'Horses are like strawberries. They spoil overnight.'"

De Seroux expects a big effort from Just Wonder after a third-place finish in the Inglewood on April 30. "He's doing good and a mile-and-a-quarter is his best distance," said de Seroux.

$350,000 Charles Whittingham Memorial Handicap (gr. IT, Race 6, 4:45 p.m.), 3 & up, 1 1/4 miles (turf)
PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight
1. Sarafan, Victor Espinoza, 118
2. Pellegrino, David Flores, 116
3. Sweet Return, Alex Solis, 119
4. Red Fort, Corey Nakatani, 117
5. Deputy Lad, Tyler Baze, 113
6. Vangelis, Patrick Valenzuela, 118
7. Stanley Park, Jose Valdivia Jr., 118
8. Just Wonder, Rene Douglas, 114
9. Continuously, Garrett Gomez, 114