INGLEWOOD, Calif. -- Between them, Daytona and Ever a Friend dominated the major stakes for milers and middle-distance turf horses during the Santa Anita winter-spring meeting earlier this year.
It is fitting that they are the two principals in Monday's $250,000 Shoemaker Mile at Hollywood Park. A win by Daytona or Ever a Friend would solidify the horse's role as the leading turf miler in Southern California in a year when many of the world's best turf milers will descend on this circuit for the Breeders' Cup Mile at Santa Anita on Oct. 25.
The owners and trainers of Daytona and Ever a Friend are both hoping to run their respective geldings in the Breeders' Cup Mile and are using the Grade 1 Shoemaker as a stepping-stone to the race.
There is much to like about both Daytona and Ever a Friend in the field of eight.
Daytona, imported from Ireland in the spring of 2007, has won 5 of his last 6 starts, all in graded stakes on turf. His wins include the Grade 1 Hollywood Derby over this course last November and the Grade 2 Arcadia Handicap over a mile on turf at Santa Anita on April 5, his most recent start.
Ever a Friend was a $62,500 claimer last December when owners Dan Capen and Steve and Jeff Ustin and trainer Mike Mitchell snagged him from a six-furlong turf sprint here. Ever a Friend is unbeaten in two starts this year, including a shockingly easy win by 3 3/4 lengths in the Grade 1 Frank Kilroe Mile at Santa Anita on March 1.
Daytona will probably go favored - he has accomplished more - but Ever a Friend will be well supported. In a sense, there will be a race within the race. Daytona is expected to lead, but Ever a Friend will not be far behind.
Trainer Dan Hendricks thinks that Daytona could be even more eager than usual to lead, because the 4-year-old has not started in more than seven weeks.
"He might be a little fresh and go a little faster than
normal," Hendricks said. "It depends on what kind of fractions we can get away with. He could be hard to catch."
Daytona has led or disputed the lead in his five graded stakes wins, often getting away with a modest pace. In the Arcadia Handicap, he set fractions of 22.78 and 46.30 seconds and won by a neck, holding off a late threat from Hyperbaric, another Shoemaker starter.
"The rest should do him well," Hendricks said. "He deserved a little break, and he thrived on it."
Daytona is unlikely to scoot too far away from Ever a Friend. In the Kilroe, Ever a Friend was only a half-length off the lead before taking over in early stretch.
"You can move on him whenever you want to move on him," Mitchell said.
After the Kilroe, Mitchell said the Shoemaker was the next objective for the 5-year-old. Mitchell said he knew that Ever a Friend was on course for the Shoemaker when he watched the gelding's works this month, including six
furlongs in 1:11.40 on the main track on May 19.
"His last three works have been sensational," he said. "I don't think there is any special way to train him. He's a trainer's dream."
Hyperbaric is the biggest threat to the two leading contenders. Trained by Julio Canani, Hyperbaric seeks his first stakes win. The race will include the 9-year-old debut of Perfect Drift, a winner 11 of 46 starts and $4,680,691. He is trained by Richard Mandella, who won the 2007 Shoemaker with another 9-year-old, The Tin Man.