Horse of the Year Sunday Silence, out of action since undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery last November, returns to the races Sunday in the $309,400 Californian at Hollywood Park, and only two competitors have accepted the challenge.
Charlatan III and Stylish Winner, who have won but a single race between them since 1988, today passed the entry box along with Sunday Silence, who won over $4.5 million last year including the Kentucky Derby and Breeders' Cup Classic.
Because of the small field for the 37th running of the Grade I event at 1 1/8 miles, there will be win betting only on The Californian along with $2 Exacta wagering. It will be run as the ninth race and final leg of the late $3 Triple on the 10-race card.
Sunday Silence, who will carry 126 pounds and Chris McCarron in his 1990 debut, has been working brilliantly for his return. The 4-year-old son of Halo drilled an easy half-mile in :46 3/5 on Thursday in a final blowout following a dazzling mile work of 1:34 3/5 on Saturday.
"He's plenty fit," commented trainer Charlie Whittingham, who owns Sunday Silence in tandem with Dr. Ernest Galliard and Arthur B. Hancock III.
Nonetheless, horse racing's dominant thoroughbred proved vulnerable at Hollywood Park late last July following his Triple Crown campaign. Prized upset Sunday Silence, the 1-5 favorite, in the Swaps Stakes. One other of Sunday Silence's four career setbacks also occurred at Hollywood Park when he was beaten by Houston in an allowance sprint as a 2-year-old.
Victorious in eight of his 12 career starts while never worse than second, Sunday Silence will be spotting his rivals at least 11 pounds in a stake where imposts are based on earnings.
Stylish Winner, whose career earnings are just over $690,000, will be saddled with 115 pounds. Trainer Bruce Headley has named Corey Black to ride. Charlatan III, whose money won barely tops $205,000, gets into the race at 111 pounds. Julio Garcia will be aboard for trainer Hector Palma.
Both Stylish Winner and Charlatan III most recently competed in the May 20 Mervyn LeRoy Handicap here where the latter was beaten only a head by Super May at odds of 35-1. Stylish Winner finished fifth in the Mervyn Le Roy.
The 6-year-old gelding, however, captured the On Trust Handicap here last November, and he ran second to Criminal Type in Santa Anita's San Antonio Handicap while finishing ahead of Ruhlmann, eventual Santa Anita Handicap winner.
With three runners from a list of 22 original nominees, the winner's share of The Californian purse will be $174,400.
If Sunday Silence comes out of the race in good shape, his connections plan to run him next in the $1-million Hollywood Gold Cup on June 24.
A field of 10 3-year-old fillies has been entered in Saturday's $100,000 Honeymoon Handicap to be contested at 1 1/16 miles on the grass at Hollywood Park.
Co-highweight Tasteful T.V., who will carry Laffit Pincay Jr. and 119 pounds, will attempt to better a series of second-place finishes in her last three stakes outings.
Annual Reunion, who shares top weight, will be racing on the turf for the first time following a victory in the Moraga Handicap at Golden Gate Fields. Robbie Davis will ride for trainer Gary Jones.
Materco, to be ridden by Eddie Delahoussaye, will be coming off a disappointing finish in the California Oaks at Golden Gate when running fifth at 3-5 odds. The daughter of Interco had captured the Providencia Stakes at Santa Anita in her previous race.
The complete field, in post position order:
She's a V.P. (Chris McCarron), 117; Materco (Eddie Delahoussaye), 117; Bimbo (Corey Black), 112; Nijinsky's Lover (Gary Stevens), 116; Slew Of Pearls (Kent Desormeaux), 117; Tasteful T.V. (Laffit Pincay Jr.), 119; Blue Sonata (Julio Garcia), 108; Freya Stark (Davis Patton), 114; Conteuse (Alex Solis), 115, and Annual Reunion (Robbie Davis), 119.