The highlight of the racing weekend falls to the west as Hollywood Park hosts the Triple Bend Handicap (I) one more time for older sprinters. Last year I pegged winner Camp Victory (10-1) on a psychological whim, so naturally I have to wonder this year if trainer Mike Mitchell’s most recent lapse in good health will motivate Joe Talamo to ride a big one again. It looks to be a pretty solid field no matter who you like.
$250,000 Triple Bend Handicap (I) - 3-Year-Olds & Up. 6 furlongs on all-weather track at Betfair Hollywood Park. Post Time: Saturday, June 29 at 5pm PST.
[Post Position, Horse - Jockey, Impost, Trainer - Summary, Opinion in italics]
1) Morning Line - Julien Leparoux, 119 lbs, John Shirreffs - Making a career out of the middle distances, the Tiznow son and past winner of the Carter Handicap (I) offers some back class hidden by a 4th and last last-out finish in last year’s Californian (II) won by Game On Dude, who set up sleeper fractions to wire that 9-furlong event. Cutting back 3 furlongs may not be what the doctor ordered, but he has class where it counts and a recent win at Hollywood in May’s Mervyn LeRoy Handicap (II) over 1 1/16 miles. However, that race had much weaker competition and he was able to wire it comfortably with Talamo, who has chosen to ride another. A lot of questions: is he fit off that long layoff? Is Leparoux worth trusting?
2) Jimmy Creed - Gary Stevens, 122 lbs, Richard Mandella - Garrett Gomez’s absence allows Stevens to ride the likely favorite in emerging top sprinter Jimmy Creed, a blue-blooded son of Distorted Humor who has one win in one start this year with a hard-fought victory in April’s La Potrero Grande at Santa Anita. A consistent runner with a 50% winning percentage, his only bomb was his 9th in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint (I) last year, and he followed that up with a win in the Malibu (I). He shows to do poly just fine and has been firing bullets of all lengths and categories prepping at Santa Anita. A deserving favorite? Surely.
3) Rail Trip - Jose Valdivia Jr, 117 lbs, Ron Ellis - Making his first start of the year, the Jump Start gelding has been a jack of all trades racing short and long just about everywhere. He has been working 6 panels steadily since his runner-up showing to Tapizar in the Dirt Mile (I) and consistently shows up at Hollywood Park, winning or placing in most starts there with his worst being one 4th. His poly record is very good but how does he stand up to the sprinting crowd? Should things fall apart, Rail Trip could be there hanging in, but he appears to be stronger around a mile.
4) Comma to the Top - Edwin Maldonado, 121 lbs, Peter Miller - The pink blinker-hooded Bwana Charlie gelding has a win percentage that is nearly 50% in 31 starts, and is coming in with back-to-back wins including a wire-to-wire effort last out in the similiarly-conditioned Los Angeles Handicap (III). 3 for 6 this year, he drifted in in his last start and has looked like he has stepped back a bit in his workouts. Combined with the grueling scenario he is likely to get from Jimmy Creed, I’m backing off of this one.
5) Drill - Rafael Bejarano, 116 lbs, Bob Baffert - Winless in 4 starts this year, the on-again-off-again Lawyer Ron colt hasn’t won in over a year despite getting time off after his last win against other three-year-olds here at Hollywood. His recent tradeoff to the turf and now back to dirt signals that his connections are desperately trying whatever they can to tempt this once-game champion to run hard again.
6) Cyclometer - Mike Smith, 113 lbs, Bruce Headley - The California-bred son of Cyclotron (a maiden winner here at Hollywood) raced once as a three-year-old, many times last year as a four-year-old, and ran second last out in a 6-furlong allowance at Hollywood, bowing late to the winner and beating out mostly $62,500 tags. However, Headley is no stranger to sprinter training (2000 BC Sprint winner Kona Gold) and Mike Smith isn’t either to riding them. Workouts look good, but class and figure jump is a huge deal not even a kind impost may be able to overcome for this, his graded stakes debut.
7) Centralinteligence - Victor Espinoza, 114 lbs, Ron Ellis - The Smarty Jones gelding bested his stablemate Camp Victory to be 2nd to Comma to the Top last out in the Los Angeles (III), and that is about as close as he’s gotten to graded stake success so far in his career, making a poor break in last year’s Triple Bend. He doesn’t strike me as a serious contender here, but he’s worth using in the backend of exotics.
8) Tres Borrachos - Alex Bisono, 115 lbs, Martin Jones - A bit of a personal favorite, the Ecton Park gelding ran 4th in last year’s Triple Bend, but has been unable to rebuild to that good form he had where he was consistently in the top 3 finishers in stakes company. He won an allowance this year in a field that included Sky Kingdom, then ran 3rd behind Liaison in the Santana Mile. He has been looking uninterested lately in both his races and his workouts— most recent 3F “zinger” was a :39.6 done handily. I don’t think he’s awake for this.
9) Camp Victory - Joe Talamo, 116 lbs, Mike Mitchell - Winless so far in 2 starts this year, the Forest Camp gelding has yet to crawl back to that winning form he had last year in this race, running third last out in the Los Angeles (III). He is generally pretty strong at this track, with mostly on-the-board finishes, with half of his 8 career wins taking place here with a win and a place in the last two runnings of the Triple Bend (I). He looks keyed up to run big in this race with Joe Talamo riding, and is especially game to go should there be another fragile speed duel up front this year.
Top Picks in Order:
1) Camp Victory
2) Jimmy Creed
3) Rail Trip
The strongest two are my top two, but Camp Victory stands at an advantage setup-wise while Jimmy Creed has been a strong standout among western sprinters and looks rigged to go again here as the favorite. A lot of horses I dismissed out of suspicion they might not be fit for the task of running well or at G1 form. Rail Trip may not be good enough to win at the shortened distance, but he’s very consistent among the classiest of fields.
Value Picks: Rail Trip (8-1), Morning Line (10-1); the latter has darkhorse appeal with his back-class and long time off to get reacquainted with racing with a top California trainer