General Challenge Returns After 2 1/2-Year Hiatus

Edited release from Hollywood Park
Excessivepleasure, a 3-year-old bordering on stardom after capturing last month's $500,000 WinStar Derby, and comebacking General Challenge, unraced in over 2 1/2 years following triumphs in such classic events as the Santa Anita Handicap, will be the focus of Saturday's fourth annual Citibank California Gold Rush at Hollywood Park.

Excessivepleasure will be the 124-pound high weight and solid favorite in the $250,000 Citibank Snow Chief Stakes for 3-year-olds at 1 1/8 miles, centerpiece on the program of ten stakes races for California-breds with a purse value of over $1.3 million.

General Challenge, whose earnings of $2,876,018 put the 7-year-old gelding sixth on the all-time list of earnings by California-breds, heads a competitive field of ten in the $150,000 Tiznow Stakes at 7 1/2 furlongs. The Tiznow is the lone new stakes race on the Gold Rush slate.

Trained by Bob Baffert for Golden Eagle Farm, General Challenge went to the sidelines with an ankle injury following a fourth place finish in Del Mar's 2000 Pacific Classic as the odds-on favorite and defending champion. A tendon injury complicated the recovery of General Challenge. He departed with a 9-3-1 record in 18 starts including a victory in the 1999 Santa Anita Derby as well as the 2000 Santa Anita Handicap.

"He looks absolutely fantastic now," said assistant trainer Tim Yakteen, deputizing for Baffert who is in Kentucky. "If he came back to win it would be a great accomplishment for the rehab at Golden Eagle Farm and the training by our stable. It takes an individual with great ability to come off the bench and do that. I hope this is his first race of many to come."

The competition for General Challenge includes Grey Memo, the millionaire who won the 2000 Snow Chief and last year's $1 million Godolphin Mile in the United Arab Emirates. The gray 6-year-old, trained by Warren Stute, has returned from the UAE where he ran second in this year's Godolphin Mile on March 29.

Excessivepleasure will be conceding from seven to ten pounds to eight rivals in the Snow Chief. The son of In Excess, trained by Doug O'Neill for Ty and Lee Leatherman, has won three of five starts while narrowly beaten when second in the other pair. He broke his maiden in his debut at Hollywood Park last November before winning the $125,000 California Breeders' Champion Stakes by five lengths at Santa Anita Park.

The complete field for the Citibank Snow Chief Stakes, with jockeys and weights in post position order: Uncle Jack, Gary Stevens, 117; Tiz A Coup, Alex Solis, 117; Excessivepleasure, Patrick Valenzuela, 124; Bold N Broke, Mike Smith, 114; Chief Planner, David Flores, 114; Clover Situation, Corey Nakatani, 114; Winning Stripes, Kent Desormeaux, 117; Guaritta, Jose Valdivia Jr., 114, and Star Of Grace, Victor Espinoza, 114.

The complete field for the Tiznow Stakes, with jockeys and weights in post position order: Swordfish, Martin Pedroza, 120; Waingarth, Tyler Baze, 120; Joey Franco, Desormeaux, 122; Vito Corleone, Valdivia, 120; Sombrio, Flores, 118; a-Commander's Flag, Solis, 120; Ride And Shine, Smith, 120; Grey Memo, Stevens, 124; Bonus Pay Day, Patrick Valenzuela, 120, and a-General Challenge, Nakatani, 120. a-Golden Eagle Farm entry.

The Gold Rush Day card gets underway at 1:20 p.m. with the $150,000 B. Thoughtful Stakes for fillies and mares at seven furlongs. Team Valor's Jetinto Houston will be seeking his third consecutive victory following a five-length win in Santa Anita's $100,000 Irish O'Brien Stakes on March 16.

Shalini, who took the $100,000 Pro Or Con Stakes at Santa Anita in January, is the 122-pound highweight among nine entrants in the $150,000 Fran's Valentine Stakes for fillies and mares at 1 1/16 miles on turf. In the $150,000 TVG Khaled Stakes at 1 1/8 miles on turf, 10-year-old Native Desert will be in search of a Hollywood Park record. A victory would make him the oldest stakes winner in track history, surpassing legendary John Henry, who won the Sunset Handicap at 9 in 1984.

The $200,000 Melair Stakes, for 3-year-old fillies at 1 1/16 miles, goes as the day's ninth race. The high weight among 12 entrants is Golden Eagle Farm's Long Term Wish. Princess V., unbeaten in two starts, will try to keep her perfect record intact for trainer Neil French.