The rain might have forced Friday afternoon’s Hoist the Flag Stakes off the turf and onto the sloppy main track at Hollywood Park, but two trainers were not complaining about the switch.
Craig Lewis, whose Music Merci won the first division of the Grade II race, and Gary Stute, who saddled second division winner Shipping Time, both said the mud was fine with them.
Music Merci, sent off as the favorite by the crowd of 18,324, easily defeated nine rivals as Gary Stevens guided him to a 4 1/2-length victory over Double Quick, ridden by Martin Pedroza. Crown Collection, the second favorite with Russell Baze aboard, finished 9 lengths farther behind in third.
The surface did not seem to bother Music Merci in the slightest.
“I think he liked it,” Lewis said, adding that he had not been concerned when the race was switched from the turf.
“Anytime you win, you’re glad,” he said.
In his previous start, Music Merci, a gray gelding by Stop the Music out of Merci Croquet, finished fourth, more than 12 lengths behind the winner, in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. That race also was run on an off track, but Lewis said the Canadian-bred had trained well in the mud.
The victory was Music Merci’s fifth in 8 starts and his $58,220 share of the purse increased his earnings to $427,220. Lewis said the gelding’s next race would be the $1-million Hollywood Futurity Dec. 18.
“He handled it nice,” Stevens said of the slop, which appeared to be deeper along the rail and gave horses running wider a better chance.
“It doesn’t feel that deep, but . . . all day long the outside has been a little bit better.”
Stevens, who won both divisions of the race in 1986, had the mount on Mountain Ghost, another Lewis-trained gray, in Friday’s second division, but could manage no better than fourth.
Instead, it was Shipping Time, ridden by Corey Black, who came from far off the pace and got to the wire first. The bay colt by Lonadon Bells out of Thousand Ships finished a length ahead of Baze on Super May. Eddie Delahoussaye brought the favorite, Past Ages, home third, 2 1/2 lengths back.
Shipping Time’s winning time of 1:37 1/5 was almost a full second slower than Music Merci’s clocking of 1:36 3/5. All the same, it was the colt’s third victory in 10 starts and increased his earnings to $138,450.
Stute, assistant trainer to his father, Mel, who is vacationing in the Caribbean, agreed with Lewis that the mud had not been a concern.
“It didn’t bother me,” he said. “I really liked it better on the dirt.”
Black, who dropped back as far as 12 lengths early in the race, said he did not doubt Shipping Time’s ability but was surprised by his late charge.
“He unleashed a more powerful run than I really thought he had,” Black said. “I thought I’d come gradually, gradually, and then really try and kick in at the quarter pole. When I chirped him at the three-eighths pole, he just cut, and he was flying on the turn until the eighth pole. He always has a tendency to ease up when he gets the lead.
“I thought his style would fit the one-turn mile well because he’s a come-from-behind sprinter. . . . For the Hollywood Futurity, I like my position.”
Whether Shipping Time challenges Music Merci and others in the Grade I Futurity, however, will depend on whether owner I.S. Longo is willing to supplement him for $50,000, because the colt is not nominated for the race.
Horse Racing Notes
In Friday’s eighth race at Aqueduct, jockey Jose Santos, 27, surpassed Laffit Pincay’s record for earnings in a single year. Santos’ mounts have won purses totaling $13,418,954 this year. Pincay had set the record in 1985 with $13,415,049.
Reacting to an erroneous report earlier in the week that Santos already had broken his record, Pincay said: “I’m glad he did it. He works hard and he deserves it. He’s a very tough rider. He’s very cool and aggressive, and he has everything you need to be the top rider in the country.” Santos has been the nation’s leading money-winner each of the last 2 years. His victories this year include the Carter Handicap and Metropolitan Mile aboard Gulch and the Jockey Club Gold Cup and Brooklyn Handicap on Waquoit.
Owner Jerome Moss is switching some of his horses from Bobby Frankel to Charlie Whittingham and John Sadler. Headed Whittingham’s way are stakes runners Galunpe and Ruhlman. . . . In today’s $100,000-added Affirmed Handicap at Hollywood Park, a field of 11 will go to the post in the 1-mile, Grade III event. Trainer Laz Barrera’s Mi Preferido, ridden by Eddie Delahoussaye, is high-weighted at 120 pounds.