Saturday, Dec. 12, Hollywood Park
The Low-Down: Don't call it a comeback. And if the weather forecasters are correct we won't get to see one in the Native Diver. Too bad rain will likely spoil the return of popular Lava Man. Instead, this $100,000 nine-furlong handicap could be the next step forward for several contenders in their less dramatic comeback attempts.
Our Eyes: LAVA MAN, now an 8-year-old gelding, has been off since July 2008 undergoing stem cell treatments to repair a tendon injury. The Native Diver was to be his controversial comeback over the only synthetic surface where he ever scored a victory, taking the 2007 Hollywood Gold Cup. His trainer, Doug O'Neill, is on record as saying a wet track would delay that comeback until Santa Anita.
Regardless O'Neill will have plenty to say in the outcome of the nine-furlong $100,000 handicap. He will saddle SQUARE EDDIE, another Grade 1 winner working his way through an comeback from injury. O'Neill will also send out HIGH COURT DRAMA, a former Irish runner with wins on Polytrack and Hollywood's turf in his U.S. debut last time out.
SQUARE EDDIE has nearly as many questions as Lava Man and requires some parsing of O'Neill's words to gauge his chances. The colt exits a 10th-place finish in the Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint. It was a curious spot to show up considering the way he shot to the top of many Kentucky Derby future lists last fall when he won the Breeders' Futurity at Keeneland in his two-turn debut. His owner, Paul Reddam, loves big stages and is never afraid of challenges, but the colt's performance seemed rushed and misplaced. Since the race, SQUARE EDDIE has responded with three sharp drills at distances that say he will be stronger at this distance. Garrett Gomez noticed as well. He gets aboard for the first time.
In a five- or six-horse race, pace will be ultra important. Two powerful front-runners in MAST TRACK and TRES BORRACHOS will be major players.
MAST TRACK is winless in nine starts since upsetting the 2008 Hollywood Gold Cup with a wire-to-wire performance including a fourth-place effort trying to defend that title this past summer. This will be his first start since the death of his Hall of Fame owner and trainer Bobby Frankel. The horse got back to pace-pressing tactics in an allowance race last time at Oak Tree. He yielded to NEKO BAY, who is also back in the Native Diver.
TRES BORRACHOS always seems to be tilting at windmills, but he's speedy and brings a puncher's chance to every fight. This race brings him back to the site of three best performances and Victor Espinoza will take the reins for the first time today.
The Bottom Line: With the top contenders all on the road to redemption, let's go with the one who seems the closest to getting there. SQUARE EDDIE seems to be getting all the pieces to fit nicely. Granted it's seven months too late for a Derby run and six weeks too late for the Breeders' Cup, but the potential has always been there. He should show it today.
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