Colonel John and Well Armed are the two best horses in trainer Eoin Harty's barn. Both have been off for several months, but both are now ready to run. Harty nominated both to the Grade 2, $250,000 San Diego Handicap this Sunday at Del Mar, but didn't want to run them against one another.
He found an option. After Colonel John worked satisfactorily on the turf on Sunday morning, Harty entered him in the $85,000 Wickerr Handicap, a restricted stakes race for older horses at one mile on turf that will be run on Friday. Although Colonel John has won such major races as the Santa Anita Derby and the Travers Stakes, he was eligible to the Wickerr because he had not won a stakes race since May 1.
In fact, he hasn't even raced since Dec. 26. Colonel John, 4, finished fourth in the Malibu Stakes at Santa Anita, then was rested for the Santa Anita Handicap in March. But the morning of that race, he was running a temperature and was scratched.
"The groom was adamant something was wrong when I got there in the morning," Harty said. "He normally has a temperature of 99 to 100. It was 101. I didn't think it was that bad, but wanted to monitor him. A little bit later, it was 103. He had pleural pneumonia. I had never had a problem with him his whole career until the morning of the Big Cap. These guys, they know their horses. When Wayne Lukas left this circuit, I got a few grooms who had been with him for 15 or 20 years."
Colonel John worked five furlongs on turf on Sunday morning in 1:02 under jockey Garrett Gomez, who will ride him in the Wickerr.
"He's going to be fine on it," Gomez told Harty right after the workout. "He didn't really quicken, but he was comfortable on it, steady. And he covers so much ground."
Harty said he "would have preferred to run him on the main track, but there's no reason, judging by the way he worked, that he won't handle the grass.
"I didn't necessarily want to run the two of them against each other in the San Diego."