Yougottawanna draws off from Officer in the California Cup Juvenile.

Yougottawanna draws off from Officer in the California Cup Juvenile.

AP/ Benoit Photo

Oak Tree Race Report: Withflyingcolors

Published in the Nov. 10 issue of The Blood-Horse
With a statewide industry fully galvanized by the latest exploits of Tiznow, Oak Tree trotted out California Cup XII on Nov. 3, a $1.275-million stakes feast for the Golden State's finest, and the dream year of trainer John Dolan kept right on rolling when Irisheyesareflying turned in the race of his career in the day's key event, the $250,000 Wells Fargo Bank California Cup Classic Handicap.

It was 18 months ago that Dolan, a native Southern Californian, claimed Irisheyesareflying for $50,000, and, several weeks later, Lazy Slusan for $62,500. Lazy Slusan went on to become one of the greatest claims in recent memory. With Lazy Slusan now gone from Dolan's barn, it looks like Irisheyesareflying may carry the flame into 2002.

While Lazy Slusan returned immediate dividends, Irisheyesareflying has been more of a work in progress. The 5-year-old son of Flying Continental broke through for good last winter, then gave Dolan a thrill with a solid outing in Tiznow's Santa Anita Handicap (gr. I). A pair of close calls behind both Futural and Euchre confirmed his talent, then he jumped his game to a new level in mid-August with a 2 1/2-length triumph in the Longacres Mile Handicap (gr. III).

His nine-furlong Classic was a thoroughly professional performance, hinting that Irisheyesareflying may be ready to hit the big leagues for good. Longshot Eric Da Bomb set the early pace in the Classic, but at the quarter pole, the son of Flying Victor was swarmed on all sides. Figlio Mio cut the corner under Tyler Baze and snatched the lead, but Irisheyesareflying rolled by in midstretch to win by an expanding 2 1/2-lengths in 1:49.14.

While there's no denying Dolan's ability at the claim box, the most second-guessed move of the year would have to be trainer Bob Baffert's decision to toss Officer into the Cal Cup Juvenile Stakes just a week after his Breeders' Cup debacle. The result? Another odds-on flop.

This time, there were no Johannesburgs or Came Homes to deal with. Instead, a son of Candi's Gold named Yougottawanna dealt Officer his second straight defeat, leaving onlookers with one simple notion. Yougottawonder what they were thinking.

"My question was 'Why?' " one prominent horseman commented. "I mean, even if he won, he's not going to gain anything. And now he looks so bad."

It certainly looked like a slam-dunk turning for home, as Officer had Yougottawanna seemingly put away. But just when most figured he'd draw off by five or six, he didn't. Yougottawanna still had something in reserve, and by midstretch, he was back in front. The final margin was 1 1/2 lengths. Owned by Halo Farms, Yougottawanna comes from the Jerry Hollendorfer outfit.

To his credit, Officer was 11th, racing with just one horse beaten, entering the first turn, and his Point Given-type move down the backstretch was costly energy-wise. Gary Stevens, aboard the Bertrando colt for the first time, accepted the blame, while Baffert was apparently undeterred, claiming the Cal Cup loss gave Officer some valuable on-the-job experience.

Nevertheless, Officer has gone from the game's next icon to a potential flash in the pan in just seven short days. The Dec. 15 Hollywood Futurity (gr. I) should provide more insight.

While Officer and Yougottawanna are still learning the ropes, there's no telling if they'll ever match the longevity of Native Desert. A living tribute to the skill and affection of trainer Juan Garcia, the son of Desert Classic pulled down his second Cal Cup Mile Handicap with a heart-stopping decision over rival Spinelessjellyfish.

Amazingly, it was Native Desert's fourth Cal Cup appearance. It may have been his best. Under a spotless ride from Eddie Delahoussaye, the 8-year-old gelding hugged the fence till the top of the stretch, where he cut loose, knifed between horses, and ran down Spinelessjellyfish. In the day's most thrilling finish, Native Desert prevailed by a head in 1:34.97.

Native Desert was once a $32,000 claim, and veterinarians told Garcia the gelding would never last. Both proved to be false appraisals. Among his 60 starts for Garcia and owner Miguel Rubio, Native Desert now has two wins, a second (last year), and a third ('98) in the Cal Cup Mile alone. He has earned $1,581,691.

The remainder of the 10-race card, loaded with fields filled to the brim, spotlighted a number of distinguished names, both past and present.

* Ceeband, bred by the late Cecilia Straub-Rubens and claimed for $62,500 last March by trainer John Sadler, stormed home by two lengths in the six-furlong Cal Cup Sprint Handicap. The Chimes Band gelding, owned by CRK Stable, went the distance in 1:08.82.

* When the pace fell apart in the 8 1/2-furlong Cal Cup Matron Handicap, Cee Dreams was there to pick up the pieces. The 5-year-old Cee's Tizzy mare won by two lengths for trainer Peter Eurton.

* Lady George (by Lake George) edged Fragrant Cloud in the 1 1/16-mile Cal Cup Juvenile Fillies Stakes for owner Gordon Severson and trainer Tony Locke. A race later, the 6 1/2-furlong Cal Cup Distaff Handicap, run down the hillside grass course, went to Betty and Robert Irvin's Jeweled Pirate (by Pirate's Bounty). Ray Bell trains.



"She's the most laid-back thing ever, which is great," explained trainer Ben Cecil, extolling the behavioral virtues of Golden Apples. "The more aggressive a horse is and the more they want to do, the more they're likely to get hurt, but she's a dream to train. The problem I have is getting her to do enough. In a race, she's still fairly laid-back, but once you ask her, she's got quite a kick."

Indeed. Golden Apples may lack a degree of motivation in her morning drills, but kick her clear in the heat of battle and PRESTO--she's poetry and power in motion.

The exciting daughter of Pivotal unleashed her deadly kick again on Nov. 4, crushing a fully-loaded field in the $250,000 Las Palmas Handicap (gr. IIT) at nine furlongs.

Owned by Gary Tanaka, Golden Apples has done nothing but shine since she hit the states last August. When the 3-year-old filly hit full gear in the Las Palmas, the others didn't have a prayer. Trevor Denman compared her to an express train. A rocket might have been more apt. Soaring from dead last, past a bunch that included grade I winners Cindy's Hero, Tout Charmant, and Janet, Golden Apples scored by three-quarters of a length. The Nov. 25 Matriarch Stakes (gr. IT) is up next.  

(Chart, Equibase)