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NTRA Thoroughbred Notebook

News and notes from around the Thoroughbred racing world, compiled by NTRA Communications.

Martin Smith, assistant and exercise rider for English trainer John Best, hopes the stable enjoys as much success in the Grade I, $750,000 CashCall Futurity Saturday at Hollywood Park with Axel Foley as it did with Square Eddie in the Breeders Futurity at Keeneland in October.

Axel Foley looms as the mystery horse in the Futurity at 1 1/16 miles on Cushion Track. “We sent Square Eddie to run in the Futurity in Kentucky and sold him before the race to J. Paul Reddam,” said Smith. “We’re doing a similar thing with this horse. A few people have inquired, but nothing has been decided.”

Axel Foley, who is in the barn of trainer Doug O’Neill, broke his maiden at second asking at seven furlongs on the synthetic surface at Lingfield on October 15. Smith is confident the colt will also acquit himself favorably in the Futurity.

“The jockey who rode him that day just smacked him once and said he could get a mile and a quarter,” said Smith of the come-from-behind victory with visions of the 2009 Kentucky Derby in the back of his mind.

First, the Kentucky-bred son of Officer must prove he can get a mile and a sixteenth in the Futurity. “We’ve been planning on this race since early November,” said Smith.

Named for the Eddie Murphy character in “Beverly Hills Cop,” Axel Foley was purchased for $165,000 at the 2007 Keeneland September sale, the same auction at which Square Eddie was purchased for $200,000. Square Eddie is in training here with O’Neill, being pointed for the San Rafael Stakes at Santa Anita next year.

Meanwhile, O’Neill is busy putting the final touches on two other Futurity entrants. Graded stakes winner Azul Leon has long been pointed to this race, and O’Neill will also send out the maiden Mark S the Cooler.

Azul Leon seeks to become the first Hollywood Juvenile Championship winner to annex the Futurity since Swiss Yodeler in 1996 and also hopes to follow in the footsteps of his sire, Lion Heart, the 2003 winner. “Azul Leon is a proven sprinter and not proven at two turns,” said O’Neill. “But he trains like added ground won’t be a problem. He’s training fantastic and ready to roll.”

Mark S the Cooler is owned by Reddam. “The CashCall Futurity is named for Paul’s business,” said O’Neill of the race sponsor. “He wanted to give the horse a chance. Even though he’s a maiden, he has been training well.”

Sunday is closing day of the Hollywood meeting, and that day, the Inglewood, Calif., track will feature the Grade II, $150,000 Dahlia Handicap. A large field is shaping up, led by the multiple graded stakes winner Vacare, who has been assigned high weight of 122 pounds for the 1 1/16-miles turf test for fillies and mares. that highlights closing day Sunday.

Trained by Christophe Clement, Vacare has won seven of 13 starts and earned $1,123,706. She won the Grade I Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup at Keeneland at age three, the Grade II First Lady Stakes at Keeneland at four, and the Grade II Palomar Handicap at Del Mar this year at age five.

Canterbury Park will host Claiming Crown for the ninth time in the event’s 11-year history when the one-of-a-kind program for Thoroughbred racing’s “blue-collar” performers is held at the Shakopee, Minn., racetrack on Saturday, July 25. Patterned after the Breeders’ Cup, the $600,000 Claiming Crown consists of seven races offered at varying distances on both dirt and turf.

“Claiming Crown annually attracts some of America’s winningest horses and trainers, including such leading conditioners as Steve Asmussen and Scott Lake,” said Randy Sampson, president and general manager of the track located in the Minneapolis suburb of Shakopee. “We are looking forward to their participation again in 2009.”

Conditions of eligibility for Claiming Crown 2009 will be identical as in 2008, which means that to be a participant, a horse must have started for or below the specific claiming price since January 1, 2008. The races again will have purses ranging from $50,000 to $150,000 and the claiming levels will range from $7,500 to $35,000.

The seven Claiming Crown races are:
$50,000 Iron Horse, three-year-olds and up, starters for a claiming price of $7,500 or less, one mile and one-sixteenth.
$50,000 Express, three-year-olds and up, starters for $7,500 or less, six furlongs.
$75,000 Glass Slipper, fillies and mares, three-year-olds and up, starters for $16,000 or less, six furlongs.
$75,000 Rapid Transit, three-year-olds and up, starters for $16,000 or less, six furlongs.
$100,000 Tiara, fillies and mares, three-year-olds and up, starters for $25,000 or less, one mile and one-sixteenth on turf.
$100,000 Emerald, three-year-olds and up, starters for $25,000 or less, one mile and one-sixteenth on turf.
$150,000 Jewel, three-year-olds and up, starters for $35,000 or less, one mile and one-eighth.

Sam Houston Race Park’s “Here’s to Racing: Restroom Race” television commercial has been selected as one of the “Funniest Commercials of the Year” by national cable super station, Turner Broadcasting System (TBS). The commercial, available to view at, will air as part of a TBS special, hosted by comic Kevin Nealon, featuring the funniest commercial spots from 2008 on December 23.

“We are thrilled to have our television commercial recognized on a national level,” said Andrea Young, Chief Operating Officer, Sam Houston Race Park. “We are diligently working to change the face of marketing for the horse racing industry with the goal of increasing brand equity, stimulating an interest among new sports fans and driving attendance for The Park’s racing, dining and concert business. This kind of recognition is reassuring that we are moving in the right direction.”

The campaign, entitled “Let’s Make Things Interesting,” encourages sports and entertainment fans to see The Park as a unique, affordable and exciting entertainment destination. The branding campaign, designed by the award-winning New Orleans-based Peter A. Mayer Advertising, covers a variety of media, from print and outdoor to radio, television and online outlets.

“Who doesn’t like racing?” asked Tony Norman, Group Creative Director at Peter Mayer, “As a kid we all raced, to the car, to the mailbox, everywhere. So we wanted to remind people, through these slightly absurd situations, just how much fun racing is, and that Sam Houston is a place where you can go and recapture a bit of that youthful excitement.”