Megahertz (left) and Dublino (6), charge to the wire in the American Oaks. Megahertz was declared the winner after Dublino was disqualified and placed second for interference in the stretch.

Megahertz (left) and Dublino (6), charge to the wire in the American Oaks. Megahertz was declared the winner after Dublino was disqualified and placed second for interference in the stretch.

AP/Benoit Photos

Hollywood Park Race Report: Winning Hertz

Published in the July 13 issue of The BloodHorse
Kent Desormeaux leaned against a bench in the Hollywood Park jockeys' room, a shower towel around his waist and sheer disappointment on his mind.

"I'm too tired to move," he sighed. "I rode hard today, buddy. And I got put away wet."

The thought he just couldn't shake. For nearly two hours, Desormeaux had been reminding himself of the callow filly's talent, of the bright future that surely lay ahead for her. And the more that feeling surfaced, the worse the afternoon became.

Desormeaux' anguish stemmed from a miscue aboard newcomer Dublino, that swiped from his grasp the inaugural running of the $500,000 American Oaks. It was a winning run, according to the rider, that was negated not by defeat but by decree.

"That's why I'm sad," Desormeaux lamented. "The best horse didn't get congratulated. They're congratulating the loser."

The wheels for the wild American Oaks were put in motion by Hollywood's racing secretary, Martin Panza. His idea--a lucrative, long-distance grass race for 3-year-old fillies--arose from a glaring hole in the racing calendar.

"It doesn't exist in North America," Panza explained, noting that the Del Mar Oaks (gr. IT) and Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup (gr. IT) are both nine-furlong events. "I kept looking at the Coaching Club American Oaks (gr. I). There's this mile-and-a-half race in New York, and there are turf fillies in there. The only reason they're in there is because they want to go a mile and a half, not because they want to run on the dirt. That sort of triggered things."

To Panza, an early July run for the 1 1/4-mile American Oaks seemed ideal. The weather and scheduling would be optimal, the initial goals simple: Fill the gate full and lure talent from overseas. He succeeded marvelously.

As an apt kickoff, the field for the inaugural Oaks was quite international. Ombre Legere and Clerical Error made their way in from France, joining Irish invader Saranac Lake.

At her San Luis Rey Downs base, trainer Laura de Seroux was excited about the prospects of her own French import, Dublino.

The rest poured in from around the country. Maliziosa shipped west riding a three-race win streak for trainer Bill Mott, while Cellars Shiraz herself had picked up four of her last five in Florida and Kentucky. Riskaverse and Cyclorama, the one-two finishers in Belmont's Sands Point Stakes (gr. IIIT), Regret Stakes (gr. IIIT) winner Distant Valley, and even A B Noodle, the Bay Meadows Oaks champ, all showed up to take a crack. Devon Rose's smashing grass debut at Delaware caught the attention of owner Richard Englander, who promptly bought the filly and pointed her westward as well.

The Southern California contingent was led by favored Megahertz, simply flawless this year for trainer Bobby Frankel. Arabic Song and Alozaina, both of whom couldn't handle Megahertz in last month's Honeymoon Breeders' Cup Handicap (gr. IIT), came back for a second go. Top to bottom the cast was loaded, and the race figured to go into the books with flair.

"We're lucky. It's a home run," Panza said. "It's nice to hit it big once in a while."

But despite the worldwide interest and the half-million dollar bait, American Oaks I boiled down to a few precious steps in midstretch. It was there that Dublino and Megahertz, after winding and weaving their way through most of the opposition, hooked up and braced to run the final furlong together.

There was visible contact as Dublino shifted out, knocking Megahertz momentarily off-stride. Neither Desormeaux nor Alex Solis missed a beat, however, and with Alozaina chasing down inside, Dublino outran Megahertz to the wire. They crossed the finish a half-length apart in 2:00.46.

Solis had sensed the foul, however, and immediately alerted the outrider. The toteboard numbers were soon flashing like blinking eyes, and while the cynosural big-screen replayed the precarious stretch battle, Solis and Desormeaux relayed their points of view to stewards Pete Pedersen, George Slender, and Tom Ward.

To Solis, the loss of momentum was only a fraction of Megahertz' problem.

"Worst of all was the whip," he later explained, claiming Desormeaux rapped the Pivotal filly twice across the nose during the fray. "She was really intimidated about it. Kent never did it intentionally. It just happened. We were so close to each other."

It was a bad step, according to Desormeaux, a divot or uneven ground, that caused Dublino to first lean right. Megahertz, to his alarm, was right there, and the instant bump between the two knocked Dublino's hind end off balance, forcing the Lear Fan filly even further out.

"I definitely pushed her off her path, what can I tell you? I should have just taken a stronger hold to make her stay straight," Desormeaux said at day's end. The whip dispute, however, remained unsettled. "If I caught the other filly, it was because we were so close. If it happened, it was certainly not an intentional situation."

Whether Desormeaux' whip hit Megahertz was a slight issue, according to Pedersen. The primary focus was the contact near the eighth pole. The stewards viewed the interference as significant. Dublino had clearly drifted several lanes out, they agreed, costing Megahertz her rightful position. The verdict was soon delivered by track announcer Vic Stauffer.

"Actually, after you look at it, there's not much else you can do," pointed out Pedersen, watching the decisive rear view of the incident. "You can see where Desormeaux came from. It left us with really no alternative."

The dust will not settle till they square off again. Owned by Michael Bello, Megahertz still has not been defeated in California. Dublino, a narrow second to Sophisticat at Longchamp in April, lost nothing via disqualification. Their performances were excellent. Their potential is still untapped. And their next battle should not be missed. The first, however, won't be forgotten.

"My filly should have won the race outright," maintained Solis.

"The best horse was disqualified," Desormeaux countered. "It's too bad."

The local stewards have not been diffident when making adjustments in big-time events in recent years. Just last summer, Futural was pulled down to third for interference following an apparent victory in the Hollywood Gold Cup (gr. I). Before that, Designed for Luck had his upset in the 2000 Hollywood Derby (gr. IT) swiped after straying right in deep stretch. Of course, fans generally look back to 1994 to find the king of all DQs--a debatable interference ruling that cost Desormeaux and The Wicked North the Santa Anita Handicap (gr. I). It's a moment that still disgusts the man.

"That was the worst call I've ever seen," Desormeaux maintains. "I hate to bring up old rotten potatoes."

The American Oaks wasn't as bad, Desormeaux conceded, and the day wasn't a total letdown.

"Yeah, thank God for Surya," he said. "She eased the pain."

Better remember the name. The homebred daughter of Unbridled made it three straight on July 6, shooting home to win the $114,800 Royal Heroine Stakes (gr. IIIT) at a mile.

"There's no telling what she is," the jockey opined. "I mean, it took Banks Hill to beat her."

That, however, was when they were both two and nobody had even heard of Banks Hill. She, of course, went on to become a Breeders' Cup winner. Surya may be following the same curve.

After making waves with a monstrous maiden win last summer at Del Mar, the 4-year-old filly reemerged from a slight shoulder injury in May to take a one-mile allowance by three. This time, the margin was two, and no doubt as convincing. Trained by Frankel, Surya is owned by Flaxman Holdings. The sky may be her only limit.