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These NorCal horses could be contenders in Breeders’ Cup races at Del Mar

Exercise rider Dana Barnes rides Arrogate, center, on their way to morning workouts at the Breeders Cup horse races Thursday in Del Mar. The season-ending championships open with four races on Friday followed by nine, including the Classic, on Saturday.
Exercise rider Dana Barnes rides Arrogate, center, on their way to morning workouts at the Breeders Cup horse races Thursday in Del Mar. The season-ending championships open with four races on Friday followed by nine, including the Classic, on Saturday. AP

After an up-and-down year, Hall of Fame trainer Jerry Hollendorfer says it’s just good to be here in Breeders’ Cup XXXIV.

“A person has to be grateful to have horses run in the Breeders’ Cup,” Hollendorfer said Thursday morning after watching his two Cup contenders gallop at Del Mar. “I’m very pleased to be able to run a couple of horses in the Cup. And since we’re in California, we can run all our other horses, too (on the undercard). I’m very happy about that.”

The Northern California-based trainer will be represented by Battle of Midway, third in the 2017 Kentucky Derby, in Friday’s Dirt Mile and Unique Bella, winner of five of six starts, in Saturday’s Filly & Mare Sprint. Each race is worth $1 million. Both horses are owned by Chilean-based Don Alberto Stable. (Battle of Midway is co-owned by WinStar Farm, a major U.S. breeder.)

Battle of Midway won his only start at Del Mar, the Shared Belief Stakes on Aug. 26, by more than six lengths.

“That’s why we have him in the Dirt Mile,” said Hollendorfer. “He’s a horse for the course. He loves it here.”

Unique Bella, one of the nation’s top 3-year-old fillies, missed six months of racing due to a shin injury. Perhaps a blessing in disguise, it gave her time to grow.

“She’s gotten a lot broader and bigger,” Hollendorfer said. “She’s been doing really well here. She likes Del Mar.”

Last November, Unique Bella won her first race at Del Mar – by more than 10 lengths.

Two of Hollendorfer’s best horses – 2016 filly champion Songbird and It Tiz Well, considered a top contender in the Distaff – missed the Cup due to injury. Songbird, winner of $4.7 million and 13 races, retired after hidden leg injuries were discovered in September. It Tiz Well, who bruised her feet in her last victory Sept. 23, is expected back next year.

“You have to be totally grateful to train a filly like Songbird,” Hollendorfer said. “I’m very happy and pleased that we got to handle her for her career. And It Tiz Well is doing great. I probably could have gotten her to this race, but just getting her there is not good enough against these.”

Hollendorfer, 71, has won two Cup stakes out of 20 starts and more than $3.52 million in Cup purses.

Besides his two starters, Hollendorfer gets credit for helping one of his competitors.

Iron Fist, who also is in Friday’s Dirt Mile, used to be in Hollendorfer’s barn. But after a change in ownership, Iron Fist was transferred in summer 2016 to trainer Steve Asmussen for an East Coast campaign. So far, the 5-year-old ridgling has won 8 of 22 starts and nearly $1 million.

“Jerry is a great horseman,” said Asmussen, a fellow Hall of Famer. “I spoke with Jerry a lot about this horse. He’s very quirky. He’s got a personality all his own. What Jerry told me is mostly what not to do with him.”

Such as never send Iron Fist to the track with a stable pony.

“You’ve got to keep him 30, 40 feet away from other horses,” Asmussen said. “Otherwise, he might try to kick out at them. Before a race, he’s usually OK; it’s in the mornings that he can be a handful. But he’s got a tremendous amount of talent.”

“Steve has been very kind to me,” Hollendorfer said. “We’re friends. But I’m running against him (in the Dirt Mile). I hope this time his horse runs horrible.”

Debbie Arrington: 916-321-1075, @debarrington

Breeders’ Cup XXXIV

Where: Del Mar Race Course

When: Friday (first cup race, 2:25 p.m.) and Saturday (first Cup race, noon)

TV: 2 p.m. Friday, NBC Sports; 10:30 a.m. Saturday, NBC Sports; 5 p.m. Saturday, Ch. 3

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