California Shipper Prepping for Season Debut in 1 1/8-Mile Race Jan. 29
HALLANDALE BEACH, FL – While the Pegasus World Cup Turf Invitational (G1) has long been in the plans for Hit the Road, trainer Dan Blacker did not expect to run in the race off a nearly four-month layoff.
Ah, but odd things happen in life and sport and Blacker has no choice but to train the Grade 1 winner up to his first start at 1 1/8 miles in the $1 million race Jan. 29 at Gulfstream Park.
Hit the Road, owned by DK Racing, Radley Equine, Taste of Victory Stables, Rick Gold, Tony Maslowski and Dave Odmark, gave Blacker, 39, the first Grade 1 win of his career with his neck victory over Smooth Like Strait in the Frank Kilroe Mile at Santa Anita. Blacker purchased the now 5-year-old son of More Than Ready in 2018 as a yearling in a private sale after he failed to reach his reserve price at a public auction.
“After he won a Grade 1 in March last year we had the Breeders’ Cup in mind throughout the year,” Blacker said. “We were prepping him, then he had a fever the week before the race and we had to scratch him. To prepare a horse for that amount of time and to have to withdraw at the last minute was really disappointing.”
After that setback and once Hit the Road resumed training, Blacker plotted a new course.
“We prepped him for the San Gabriel (G2), which is a mile and an eighth at Santa Anita [Dec. 26], with the Pegasus in mind because that race was at a mile and an eighth, as well,” he said. “And then that race came off the turf and we had to scratch out of that race. So, we’re just coming in here. It’s a bit of an unknown, but the horse is training really well.”
Hit the Road has a long series of breezes on his work tab, most recently going five furlongs in 58.40 seconds over the Santa Anita turf Jan. 16.
“Everything needs to go perfect, really,” Blacker said. “It’s a lot of tests that he has to pass in order to make the trip. It’s a long trip, it’s very expensive and I don’t want to take him unless he’s ready to fire his absolute ‘A’ game. Hopefully we’ll be able to do it. But it’s up to the horse. We’ll just have to see over the next two weeks. Right now, he’s doing great and I’m really happy with him.”
Thanks to the unforeseen combo of the minor illness and then rain in December in Southern California, the Pegasus Turf will be Hit the Road’s first start since he finished third by a half-length in a troubled trip in the City of Hope Mile (G2) Oct. 2 at Santa Anita. The City of Hope was his 11th consecutive race at one mile.
“He runs really well fresh, so I’m not worried about the fitness,” Blacker said. “I’m more concerned about the distance. You just never know. I think he will be able to run at a mile and an eighth, but the question is: Is he as good at a mile and eighth as at a mile? And when you’re running in Grade 1s, you’ve got to bring your ‘A’ game.
“It’s a lot of money, this race. We were fortunate to be invited and grateful to the Stronach Group for inviting us,” he added. “It just depends on the horse, how he works over the next two weeks. Hopefully everything runs smoothly [and] we can take a shot.”