February 20, 2024

Rockemperor among Breeders’ Cup alums in Hollywood Turf Cup

Rockemperor upsets the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic (Photo by Janet Garaguso/Coglianese Photos)

Friday’s $250,000 Hollywood Turf Cup (G2) at Del Mar shapes up as a logical rebound spot for three Breeders’ Cup also-rans, but a couple of others warrant a look as well.

Hollywood Turf Cup (G2) – Race 7 (6:30 p.m. ET)

The Chad Brown-trained Rockemperor met with some trouble en route to his belated eighth in the Nov. 6 Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1) at this course and 1 1/2-mile trip. In his prior start, the longtime stakes bridesmaid had finally broken through in the Oct. 9 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic (G1) at Belmont Park. Rockemperor gets a rider switch to Flavien Prat, who had guided him to a sharp allowance score back in June, and figures to help the European import resume his progress here.

Also exiting the Breeders’ Cup Turf are 12th-placer Astronaut, who never recovered from a hard check, and Acclimate, who retreated to last after chasing the pace. Both are eligible to turn in more characteristic efforts on Friday.

Lightly-raced Astronaut stamped himself as an up-and-comer in the division by rallying in time in the “Win and You’re In” Del Mar H. (G2) two back, with front-running Acclimate a close third. Indeed, Acclimate often carries his speed more effectively than he showed in the Breeders’ Cup, when taken out of his element by a pace rival. The Cal-bred is likely to control these proceedings early.

Particularly intriguing, however, is a Breeders’ Cup also-eligible who didn’t draw into the Turf – Friar’s Road. An impressive allowance winner in his Aug. 28 turf debut at Del Mar, the Michael McCarthy trainee backed that effort up with a surging, near-miss third to United and Acclimate in the 1 1/4-mile John Henry Turf Championship (G2). The added ground can only help his cause.

Not to be overlooked is Canadian Grade 1 veteran Say the Word, a fine third in his Southern California premiere in last year’s Hollywood Turf Cup. The Phil D’Amato charge has not been seen since his traffic-stymied fifth in the Del Mar ‘Cap, but his victory in April’s Elkhorn (G2) and placings to such mainstays as United and Smooth Like Strait make him an obvious contender.

Award Winner was beaten only a length when fourth in the John Henry. Earlier this season, the half-brother to Oscar Performance scored a hard-fought decision over Acclimate in the Charles Whittingham (G2). But his Santa Anita form didn’t translate to Del Mar over the summer, and Award Winner will try to answer the course proficiency question. Rounding out the seven-strong cast is Cupid’s Claws, better known as a dirt marathoner, and third last out in the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance (G2) on the Breeders’ Cup undercard.