Horse racing: Tiger’s Rock’s versatility will be tested in Big ’Cap

Tiger’s Rock is making a long trip in the air next week so that he can try a short trip on the track

Tiger’s Rock is making a long trip in the air next week so that he can try a short trip on the track.

Well, a shorter trip.

The massive 4-year-old son of Giant’s Causeway, a two-time stakes winner at a mile and five-eighths, is scheduled to fly from New York to Los Angeles on Wednesday to race in the Grade I $750,000 Santa Anita Handicap next Saturday.

At a mile and a quarter, the Big ’Cap will be Tiger’s Rock’s first race at shorter than a mile and a half in his last six starts.

Starlight Partners, co-managed by Schenectady native Don Lucarelli and Jack Wolf of Saratoga Springs, is willing to shell out the travel expenses because, if Tiger’s Rock runs well in the Big ’Cap, that could open up a much larger selection of races throughout the 2010 stakes schedule, which offers limited options at longer than the classic mile and a quarter.

Although the Big ’Cap represents a giant leap in company for Tiger’s Rock, the race also appeals to Starlight because it looks like their colt could get a favorable weight assignment.

Instead of hiring one of the local jockeys, Starlight will have David Cohen, who has ridden Tiger’s Rock to victory in the Gallant Fox and Coyote Lakes, make the trip.

“Cohen probably won’t even meet the weight assignment,” Lucarelli said. “Hopefully, with the weight advantage and the right trip, he could be right there. It’s prob­ably going to be a pretty full field.”

There is some speculation that the Big ’Cap will oversubscribe the maximum field size of 14, in which case weight assignments would determine who gets in the starting gate.

Nominations closed last Saturday with 31 horses.

The connections to some of the top older horses have already announced commitments elsewhere, so the Big ’Cap is attracting interest from people who might not otherwise consider the race, such as Starlight and Woodford Racing, which will ship the relatively undistinguished Grade III-winning Pool Play from Florida, trainer Mark Casse told the Daily Racing Form on Wednesday.

“Part of our thinking is that since he’s training and running so well, here’s a chance to get in with a lot of weight off, and if he performs well, it opens up so many more options,” Lucarelli said.

Grade I Pacific Classic winner Richard’s Kid, sixth to Zenyatta in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, won the Grade II San Antonio at Santa Anita on Feb. 7, but Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert told the DRF on Wednesday that he would point toward the Dubai World Cup.

Zenyatta herself is aiming for the Grade III Santa Margarita on March 13 as a prep for her showdown with Rachel Alexandra in the Apple Blossom, so she wasn’t nominated to the Big ’Cap, and Gio Ponti, second to Zenyatta in the BC Classic, is in Florida and wasn’t nominated, either.

Leading candidates should be San Marcos winner Loup Breton; Jeranimo and Misremembered, who were 1-2, respectively, in the Strub on Feb. 13; Grade II San Pasqual Handicap winner Neko Bay; and St Trinians, the 5-year-old mare who won the Grade II Santa Maria.

Trainer Mike Mitchell told the DRF last Sunday that the Big ’Cap was a better spot than taking on Zenyatta in the Santa Margarita.

Tiger’s Rock has never run in a graded stakes, much less a Grade I, but he appears to be versatile when it comes to surfaces, so the Santa Anita synthetic shouldn’t be a problem, Lucarelli said.

Tiger’s Rock, who was unraced until July of his 3-year-old season but has been a busy boy ever since, won on the Keeneland Polytrack on Oct. 31, has a turf win at Kentucky Downs and won on the dirt in his two stakes victories at Aqueduct.

Cohen, who has been getting plenty of business for trainer Todd Pletcher, got on Tiger’s Rock after he had been ridden twice by Hall of Famer Kent Desormeaux.

“We weren’t going to get any of the top name jockeys out there because they were going to already have commitments,” Lucarelli said. “We felt David Cohen knew the horse, and we’d give up a few pounds versus sending Johnny [Velazquez], although I guess he could’ve made the weight, too. I didn’t realize he was that light.

“David’s ridden out there; he’s from L.A. We’ve never had any success going out west. I just hope we can get the right trip.”

Starlight’s Monba, the Grade I Blue Grass winner who finished last in the 2008 Kentucky Derby, was fourth in the Big ’Cap last year. Take the Points has raced at Santa Anita twice, finishing second to The Pamplemousse in the Sham and fourth to Pioneerof the Nile last year.

Starlight will find out this weekend if Take the Points, the two-time Grade I winner on the turf, will get invited to Dubai World Cup Night. Lucarelli said he has it on good authority that they’ll be invited. Take the Points is possible for the $5 million Dubai Sheema Classic or $10 million Dubai World Cup.

Weekend stakes

Bickersons, the impressive winner over Eclipse Award winner She Be Wild in the Forward Gal at Gulfstream Park, will try to take the next step in the Grade II Davona Dale at Gulfstream today.

The stakes for 3-year-old fillies has also drawn Grade II winners Sassy Image and Amen Hal­lelujah.

The Grade III Sham at Santa Anita leads a relatively quiet weekend in the 3-year-old division.

The 10-horse field for the Sham doesn’t include a graded stakes winner.

Also on tap are the John Battaglia Memorial, Turfway Park’s prep for the Lane’s End; the $100,000 Borderland Derby at Sunland, where trainer Jerry Hollendorfer’s Tango Tango is the 9-5 program favorite off a fifth to Caracortado in the Robert Lewis two weeks ago; and the seven-furlong Miracle Wood at Laurel Park, which has drawn Lecomte sixth-place finisher Turf Melody.

An allowance race at Gulfstream Park could potentially have more impact on the Derby trail.

The third race, at one mile, has attracted two from trainer Rick Dutrow Jr., Grade I Champagne winner Homeboykris, who was fifth to Winslow Homer in the Holy Bull, and Radiohead, who was seventh in the BC Juvenile.

Radiohead was entered in the Hutcheson last Saturday, but was scratched that morning.

The New York-bred General Maximus, who has won both lifetime starts, and Thomas Got Even, trained by Hall of Famer Nick Zito, are also in the field. Thomas Got Even won his career debut by 9 1⁄2 lengths on Sept. 11.

Presious Passion, the pop­ular front-running turf star who couldn’t quite hold on to the lead against Conduit in the BC Turf, has drawn topweight of 123 pounds for the mile-and-three-eighths Mac Diarmida at Gulfstream on Sunday, which he will use as a prep for the Dubai Sheema Classic.

He’ll be challenged in the eight-horse Mac Diarmida by Expansion, trained by Mechanicville native Chad Brown. Expansion won his first start after being transferred to Brown’s barn last November, beating Grand Couturier in the Grade II Red Smith at Aqueduct.

Around the tracks

Beginning Wednesday, first post at Aqueduct will move to 1 p.m. Today’s card has been canceled because of the snowstorm that hit New York City Friday. .­ . .

Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra posted another workout at the Fair Grounds as the 4-year-old filly prepares for her first start of 2010 in next month’s New Orleans Ladies. She worked six furlongs in 1:14.00 over a fast main track Wednesday with regular exercise rider Dom­inic Terry aboard. Trainer Steve Asmussen called the workout “ideal,” according to The Assoc­iated Press. . . .

Zenyatta breezed six furlongs in 1:13.20 on Friday at Hollywood Park. The move was the fourth of the month for the two-time champion older female, who is unbeaten in 14 career starts, and the fourth fastest of 15 timed workouts at the distance. . . .

Midshipman, the U.S. champion 2-year-old male in 2008, rebounded from a fourth in a Grade III stakes on opening day at Meydan Racecourse in Dubai by accelerating clear for an allowance win at Meydan at six furlongs on Thursday. He was third in the BC Dirt Mile in November. . . .

Maximus Ruler is off the Derby trail after a bruised hoof that kept him out of the Risen Star last Saturday turned out to be a little more serious than initially believed. He’ll have 30 days off before trainer Clark Hanna will consider starting light training.

Zayat stands firm

Thoroughbred owner Ahmed Zayat, whose 200-plus stable includes top Kentucky Derby contender Eskendereya, the Fountain of Youth winner, said Wednesday he has a credible plan to prevent Fifth Third Bank from forcing him to sell his horses.

“This is a fair country, and our justice system is fair,” Zayat said in a telephone interview with Janet Cappiello Blake of The Associated Press from his office in Teaneck, N.J. “They are going to be crushed, crushed, crushed, crushed.”

Fifth Third Bank alleges in a lawsuit filed in December in U.S. District Court in Lexington that Zayat Stables defaulted on $34 million in loans.

“It kills me, it hurts me, it is eating me alive,” Zayat said. “They are of only one mind . . . have a fire sale.”

Last year’s Kentucky Derby second-place finisher, Pioneerof the Nile, was also bred by Zayat Stables.

In 2008, Zayat Stables was the leading thoroughbred owner by earnings, winning almost $6.9 million. Late in 2009, Zayat was in third place with more than $6.2 million.

Zayat filed for bankruptcy protection on behalf of the stable Feb. 3 to block the bank’s attempt to take over the business. A hearing is scheduled for March 8, when Zayat said he will reveal what he called a “very credible plan.”

He said he is willing to pay back the bank in full, “just allow me the time.”

Here and there

Two-time Kentucky Derby winner Calvin Borel has won the George Woolf Memorial Award, given to a rider whose career and personal character honor thoroughbred racing. The award, announced last Saturday, was decided in voting by the nation’s jockeys for the 61st year. Borel had the finest year of his 33-year career in 2009, riding 50-1 Mine That Bird in a Kentucky Derby victory and Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra to historic wins in the Preakness, Haskell and Woodward. The 43-year-old Louisiana native also won the 2007 Kentucky Derby with Street Sense. . . .

Owner Edmund Gann died on Feb. 7 at the age of 86 after a bout with cancer. He campaigned three-time Grade I winner Peace Rules, who was third to Funny Cide in both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness in 2003, and Medaglia d’Oro, the Grade I Donn Handicap winner who was second in theBreeders’ Cup Classic twice, second in the Dubai World Cup once and won the Jim Dandy, Travers and Whitney at Saratoga.

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