Hollywood Park Race Report: McCarron Wins Two Grade IIs

Published in the May 12 Blood-Horse
Staying at home has its advantages. Short commute. Close to the family. Favorite restaurant around the corner. For jockey Chris McCarron, it was sweeping a pair of $150,000 stakes races at Hollywood Park on the weekend of May 5-6.

But who could fault the 46-year-old veteran if a little part of him didn't really want to be at home Saturday. More than 2,000 miles away, the drama that is the Kentucky Derby (gr. I) was playing out, and for the first time since 1998, McCarron didn't have a mount in the sport's biggest race.

"I certainly missed being there," McCarron said. "You cherish the opportunity to run in that race."

Several weeks ago, the two-time Derby winner made a decision that looked to prove costly. Horse racing analysts were buzzing about McCarron's decision to ride turf specialist Bienamado in the San Juan Capistrano Handicap (gr. IT) at Santa Anita rather than Millennium Wind in the Blue Grass Stakes (gr. I) at Keeneland. Both horses won their respective races, but in the process McCarron lost his Derby chance on Millennium Wind.

McCarron received offers to ride some Derby entrants but he respectfully declined.

It appears McCarron made a wise choice as Millennium Wind finished a disappointing 11th in the Derby while the rider earned a set of paychecks by winning the Mervyn LeRoy and Hawthorne Handicaps (both gr. II) with Futural and Printemps, respectively.

The last two weeks have been almost circus-like for McCarron. He eclipsed the 7,000-win mark two weeks ago while dealing with the fact he was without a Derby horse.

No matter. Not riding in the Derby proved to be a good omen.

It was the first time McCarron was aboard Futural and he was impressed with the 5-year-old gray son of Future Storm. His main adversary was Skimming, who was returning from a seven-month layoff since a poor showing back east in the Jockey Club Gold Cup (gr. I) at Belmont. Regardless, Skimming won the Pacific Classic (gr. I) last summer, beating the eventual Horse of the Year Tiznow, and had trainer Bobby Frankel gunning for his fifth Mervyn LeRoy win.

Futural was jostled at the gate and settled down behind Skimming, who bolted for the early lead in the five-horse field.

"He showed good speed and made Skimming run around that first turn to secure a position, which helped me out-finish him," McCarron said.

The pair of colts rumbled down the stretch and battled back and forth for the lead. Under McCarron's urging, Futural held on to the lead in deep stretch and had Skimming nipping at his heels. Futural dug deep to eek out a one-length victory.

"This horse is a trier," winning trainer Craig Dollase said. "When it comes to a stretch duel with him, he is a fighter all the way."

McCarron liked the colt's determination and wouldn't mind being aboard for Futural's next likely start in the Californian Stakes (gr. II) on June 10.

"This horse is game, and he likes to win photos," he said. "He obviously has improved a great deal."

Futural boosted his career earnings to $418,700 and earned his third consecutive win. Skimming's second place share puts him less than $15,000 shy of the million-dollar mark.

Au Printemps
Another horse improving by leaps and bounds is the Chilean-bred Printemps, who had rattled off five straight wins before entering the May 6 Hawthorne Handicap. Her last win came on April 6 in the Santa Lucia Handicap with whom else aboard... McCarron.

But this assignment was a much taller order. The 4-year-old filly was scheduled to face grade II winner Feverish, who has an affinity for the Hollywood main track, and the late-blooming Gourmet Girl, who scored a victory in the Apple Blossom Handicap (gr. I) at Oaklawn Park in her last start.

However, Gourmet Girl was a late scratch, leaving only four to run in the Hawthorne.

"She came into heat at the wrong time, yesterday a little, today a lot," said trainer Pico Perdomo. "It's springtime. There is nothing we can do about it."

With Gourmet Girl's defection, Feverish was the overwhelming 1-2 favorite while bettors knocked down Printemps to 3-2. Feverish, ever her front-running self, had a hard time shaking longshot Cookin Vickie, who managed to hang around for most of the 1 1/16-mile race. The pace seemed to aid Printemps, who made her bid at the top of the stretch and pulled past Feverish to prove best by a length and a quarter.

"My horse had to work to win," McCarron said after the race. "Anytime you run with Feverish, you know you have a battle on your hands."

At the Post
Jockey Mike Smith, a regular rider on the East Coast, has moved West and was scheduled to begin riding at Hollywood Park on May 9. Smith, 35, is five wins away from reaching the 4,000-win milestone...The on-track handle at Hollywood on Kentucky Derby Day was the highest since 1995. The $5.2 million bet was up 9% from last year...Trainer Bobby Frankel said Kentucky Oaks (gr. I) winner Flute will return to the West Coast before heading to New York for the Mother Goose (gr. I) and Alabama (gr. I) Stakes. Frankel also said Aptitude is still pointed for the $500,000 Californian (gr. II).

(Chart, Equibase)