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NTRA Thoroughbred Notebook

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

Trainer Bob Baffert is approaching a personal milestone of 2,000 all time wins. Through racing yesterday, December 2, Baffert was at 1,999 wins. He has one scheduled start for today at Hollywood Park.

The American Graded Stakes Committee of the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association today presented its listing of U.S. Graded Stakes for 2011, the results of its annual grading session conducted December 1 in Lexington, Ky.
The Committee reviewed 689 unrestricted U.S. stakes races with a purse of at least $75,000, and assigned graded status to 474 of them, 13 fewer than were graded in 2010. A total of five graded races were upgraded, including one new Grade I race and four new Grade II races; five new Grade III races were identified. Eight races which carried graded status in 2010 are no longer eligible for grading.
One race was upgraded to Grade I status for 2011: the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf.
One race was downgraded from Grade I to Grade II for 2011: the Clement L. Hirsch Memorial Turf Championship S. at Oak Tree at Hollywood Park. The Pimlico Special at Pimlico was not eligible for grading in 2011.
Four races were upgraded to Grade II status for 2011: the With Anticipation S. at Saratoga, Tampa Bay Derby at Tampa Bay Downs, Breeders’ Cup Marathon and Presque Isle Downs Masters S. at Presque Isle Downs.
Five races were downgraded from Grade II to Grade III in 2011: the Lane’s End S. at Turfway Park, Coolmore Lexington S. at Keeneland, Prairie Meadows Cornhusker H. at Prairie Meadows, San Francisco Mile S. at Golden Gate Fields and Allaire DuPont Distaff H. at Pimlico. The Frank J. De Francis Memorial S. at Laurel Park and Dahlia H. at Hollywood Park were not eligible for grading in 2011.
Five races were upgraded to Grade III status for 2011: the Charles Town Classic S. at Charles Town, Tampa Bay S. at Tampa Bay Downs, Turf Monster H. at Parx Racing, JP Morgan Chase Jessamine S. at Keeneland and Marshua’s River S. at Gulfstream Park.
Ten races were downgraded from Grade III to Ungraded status for 2011: the Lone Star Derby at Lone Star Park, Tropical Park Derby at Calder Race Course, Chick Lang S. at Pimlico, Memorial Day H. at Calder Race Course, Queens County H. at Aqueduct, Robert F. Carey Memorial H. at Hawthorne Race Course, Kenny Noe Jr. H. at Calder Race Course, Florida Oaks at Tampa Bay Downs, Santa Paula S. at Santa Anita and Stage Door Betty H. at Calder Race Course.
The Massachusetts H. at Suffolk Downs, Carleton F. Burke H. at Oak Tree at Hollywood Park, Sport Page H. at Belmont Park, Hollywood Turf Express H. at Hollywood Park and Hawthorne H. at Hollywood Park were not eligible for grading in 2011.

Dakota Phone, who scored the biggest win of his career in the $1 million Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile November 6 at Churchill Downs, heads a field of seven in Saturday’s Grade III, $100,000 Native Diver Handicap, to be run at 1 1/8 miles at Hollywood Park in Inglewood, Calif.
Owned by a partnership that includes John Carver, Halo Farms, George Todaro and trainer Jerry Hollendorfer, Dakota Phone rallied from last in the Dirt Mile, prevailing by a head at 37-1. The win was the sixth in 32 starts for the 5-year-old gelded son of Zavata. He basically doubled his career earnings with the shocker, pushing his bankroll to $1,273,810.
If successful, he would be the first Breeders’ Cup winner to return and capture the Native Diver. Alphabet Soup won the race in 1995, some 11 months before he upset Cigar in the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Woodbine.
Trainer Paddy Gallagher entered both Soul Candy and Aggie Engineer.
Owned by E Z Eight Racing Stable and Madera Thoroughbreds, Soul Candy comes off a win in the California Cup Classic at the Native Diver distance. The 4-year-old Birdonthewire gelding had raced exclusively on turf prior to that 1 ¼ length win. He’s won four of 10 and earned $205,300.
Aggie Engineer also enters with a win in his last start, scoring as the favorite in an optional claimer Oct. 22. The 5-year-old gelded son of E Dubai has won five of 15 and earned $208,280 for owner-breeders Ward and Roberta Williford.
Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert will seek his second Native Diver win – General Challenge provided the first in 1999 – with Spurrier. Owned by Arnold Zetcher, the 5-year-old Dixieland Band horse has won five of 24, banking $256,947. A winner of three of five over the Hollywood Park main track, Spurrier has been idle since finishing fourth as part of an odds-on entry in the Ralph M. Hinds Handicap Sept. 26 at Fairplex Park.
Philatelist will try to give Humberto Ascanio a second win in a row in the Native Diver. Ascanio, who won in 2009 with Mast Track, would be the first trainer to repeat since Richard Mandella won three in succession starting in 1996.
From the rail out, the field for the Native Diver Handicap is: Philatelist (jockey: Garrett Gomez, weight: 114 pounds); Romp (Mike Smith, 114); Soul Candy (Rafael Bejarano, 117); Aggie Engineer (Joe Talamo, 116); Dakota Phone (Joel Rosario, 123); Achak (Alonso Quinonez, 114); and Spurrier (Victor Espinoza, 115).


Saturday’s $65,000 Garland of Roses Handicap, the first of seven stakes scheduled for the inner track this year at Aqueduct Racetrack in Ozone Park, N.Y., has drawn a contentious field of seven fillies and mares headed by graded stakes winner Tar Heel Mom.
The 5-year-old mare, winner of the Distaff Handicap at Aqueduct in April, comes into the six-furlong race off a lengthy layoff since suffering a leg injury during her third-place finish in the Vagrancy at Belmont Park in May. Returned to trainer Stanley Hough in October, the daughter of Flatter has been breezing steadily over Belmont’s training track towards her return, including a trio of five-furlong works, most recently an easy 1:01.16 move on Sunday.
“The Garland of Roses is a good place to start,” said Hough, who trains Tar Heel Mom for Alex Rankin. “She’s been doing very well. And the timing is right. Her owners would be delighted to race her next year if she does well.”
Alan Garcia retains the mount and toting high weight of 123 pounds, Tar Heel Mom drew post position 3 as the 5-2 favorite.
Another consistent performer drawing into the Garland of Roses is Henry, Joseph, and Jamie Terranova’s Meese Rocks, a New York bred who has been first, second, or third in all but two of her last 15 starts. The 5-year-old daughter of Rock and Roll has won three New York-bred stakes this year and will be making her first stakes start against open company in the Garland of Roses.
“I’m so blessed to have a horse like her – she’s a joy to be around, always tries hard, and does everything you ask her to do,” said trainer Edward Barker. “We gave her some time off this spring, because she had run awfully hard, but since she’s been back, she seems to be coming out of each race a little better.”
Junior Alvarado rides Meese Rocks, 4-1 on the morning line, from post position 5.
Nicole H, a 3-year-old Mr. Greeley filly who began her career in California, impressed in her New York debut, drawing off to an effortless 10 ¾-length allowance win at Belmont Park on September 22. Second over a sloppy track at Monmouth in her first start on the East coast in August, Nicole H was most recently seventh as the favorite in the Dream Supreme at Churchill Downs on November 6.
Trained by Mike Hushion, Nicole H will leave from post position 2 as the 3-1 second choice. Ramon Dominguez rides.
McVictory, who was 1-2-1 in optional claimers at the Big A earlier this year, exits a solid second-place finish in the Justakiss at Delaware Park behind Spacy Tracy, next-out winner of the Grade II Top Flight Stakes at Aqueduct. Trained by Todd Pletcher, the 4-year-old Victory Gallop filly has been no worse than third in her last 10 starts. David Cohen rides the WinStar Farm colorbearer, 7-2 on the morning line, from post 7.
Rounding out the field are Love That Dance, Dontgetsuspicious, and Ocean Goddess.


Dec. 2, 1936: Fair Grounds, New Orleans, La., licensed its first female trainer, Miss Meryl Eckhardt of Flint, Mich.

Dec. 3, 1997: Jockey Russell Baze became the 12th rider in Thoroughbred racing history to win 6,000 races when he won the fourth race at Golden Gate Fields aboard Clover Hunter.

Dec. 6, 2001: Jockey Russell Baze gained his 400th victory of the year aboard Golden Peace at Golden Gate Fields, marking the ninth time in his career he had reached the 400-win plateau in a single year. No other rider has recorded 400 victories in a year more than three times. Baze, whose best total was 448 in 1995, won 400 races for seven straight years from 1992-98. A broken bone in his back limited his victory count to 373 in 1999. Baze then bounced back with 412 victories in 2000.

Dec. 6, 2003: Legendary Daily Racing Form writer Joe Hirsch retired after 55 years of covering horse racing.

Dec. 6, 2009: Trainer Steve Asmussen established a new North American, single-season record for wins by a trainer, when Poppin won the 13th race at Woodbine. The victory by Poppin gave Asmussen his 623rd tally of the year, one more than he registered in 2008.

Dec. 7, 1957: A two-year-old colt named Silky Sullivan won the one-mile Golden Gate Futurity after making up 27 lengths, establishing a running style that became legendary. Horsemen still invoke the name of Silky Sullivan when referring to a horse that runs from far off the pace.

Dec. 8, 1989: Power to Geaux paid a record $2,922 for a $2 wager made at AK-sar-ben on the simulcast of the 11th race from Fair Grounds. The previous record for a payoff on a $2 wager was set June 17, 1912, when Wishing Ring paid $1,885.50.

Dec. 9, 1999: Jockey Laffit Pincay, Jr., tied Bill Shoemaker’s all-time record by registering his 8,833rd lifetime win aboard I Be Casual in the 4th race at Hollywood Park.