ARCADIA, Calif. -- Lava Man was the first horse this fall to train over Santa Anita's new Cushion Track racing surface, but his autumn campaign will begin on grass against the best turf miler in California.
Trainer Doug O'Neill confirmed this week that Lava Man would run Oct. 7 in the Grade 2 Oak Tree Mile, a $250,000 turf race in which he will face brilliant Grade 2 Del Mar Mile winner Crossing the Line, the New Zealand-bred who is unbeaten in three U.S. starts. Lava Man's trainer, Doug O'Neill, said surface is the reason for the switch to grass.
"Even though it looks like the Santa Anita Cushion is going to be pretty firm, we're going back to what we know is going to be firm," O'Neill said. If Lava Man runs well in the Oak Tree Mile, O'Neill said, "it opens up the door to other possibilities."
Lava Man struggled with the slow, tiring Polytrack surface in his most recent start Aug. 19 at Del Mar, finishing sixth as the favorite in the Pacific Classic. It was the first time in more than two years that Lava Man failed to hit the board in a race in California. A 6-year-old gelding, Lava Man has won 17 races and more than $5.2 million in 41 starts. He is most effective on surfaces that are fast and firm.
Fans get to feel Cushion Track
The Oak Tree Racing Association will host an "open house" on Sept. 23, in which fans are invited to walk on, and touch, the Cushion Track surface that will be in use for the first time when the Oak Tree meet begins on Sept. 26. The open house will be held at Clocker's Corner immediately after training hours at 10 a.m.
"We think this is a great way to begin to get our fans and horsemen acquainted, in a hands-on way, with Cushion Track," Santa Anita track president Ron Charles said in a prepared statement. "We opened the main track for training on Sept. 4, and the response from horsemen and jockeys has been overwhelmingly positive."
Retired Hall of Fame jockeys Laffit Pincay Jr. and Julie Krone will participate in the open house, answering questions and discussing the new surface. Pincay will autograph free copies of his DVD, "Laffit, All About Winning."
Tasha's Miracle aims for Oak Leaf
Tasha's Miracle would have looked awfully good Saturday in the $150,000 Barretts Debutante at Fairplex Park. She also would have looked good Sept. 3 in the Grade 1 Del Mar Debutante, but she tied up two days before and scratched. The filly that Tasha's Miracle toyed with Aug. 8 in the Grade 3 Sorrento, Set Play, won the Debutante.
"That was a good result for us, because it validates her race," trainer John Sadler said.
Tasha's Miracle missed only three days after being scratched from the Debutante, and is on target for the Grade 1, 1 1/16-mile Oak Leaf Stakes on Sept. 29, opening weekend of the Oak Tree meet.
"She didn't miss any real time in her workouts," Sadler said.
Tasha's Miracle worked five furlongs at Santa Anita on Sept. 9, and was scheduled to breeze again Saturday. Tasha's Miracle is 2 for 3, including a maiden win second time out, followed by a 3 1/4-length win over Set Play in the Sorrento. Set Play also is targeting the Oak Leaf.
Run Brother Ron flourishes on dirt
Run Brother Ron had an excuse for finishing dead last July 25 in the Graduation Stakes at Del Mar, according to trainer Jeff Bonde.
"He hated Polytrack," Bonde said. "He just spun his wheels."
Bonde took Run Brother Ron back to Pleasanton, where he trained great, and Wednesday at Fairplex Park he returned to form by winning the $64,675 Beau Brummel Stakes by a half-length over Rivergrade Boy. Martin Pedroza rode Run Brother Ron ($5) to victory in the race, run in 1:17.58.
Pedroza positioned Run Brother Ron outside pacesetter Carson's Copper, hooked that one on the far turn, inched clear in the stretch, and held. Reel Prime picked up the pieces and finished third; Carson's Copper weakened badly late and finished fifth.
It was the third win in five starts for Run Brother Ron, a California-bred sired by Perfect Mandate.
Pedroza, Baze still neck and neck
Pedroza and Tyler Baze were tied in the jockey standings with 10 wins each going into the week, and remained tied even though Pedroza crossed the wire first in four races Wednesday, while Baze crossed the wire first in two. That is because Pedroza was disqualified in race 11, and Baze was moved up.
Pedroza rode Majestic Game, who won by a head but was disqualified for interference in deep stretch. Baze rode Ten Tenors, who was apparently eliminated on the first turn, raced wide throughout, and checked into the lane. Pedroza and Baze entered Thursday with 13 wins each; Agapito Delgadillo had eight. Those three jockeys have combined to win more than half of the races at Fairplex.