Hit the Road proves stakes-ready in season debut Santa Anita

Hit the Road proves stakes-ready in season debut Santa Anita
Photo: Benoit

It will be back to stakes company for the 3-year-old colt Hit the Road following a sharp allowance optional claiming win versus older horses Friday at Santa Anita Park.

Making his first start since the Dec. 1 Cecil B. DeMille (G3) at Del Mar, Hit the Road raced patiently along the inside in the one-mile turf event before angling out and rallying through the stretch to beat a deep field by three-quarters of a length. 

It was exactly the sort of development from 2 to 3 that trainer Dan Blacker had hoped to see out of Hit the Road, a precocious sort last year who graduated in his second start at Del Mar and came right back to win the Zuma Beach on Oct. 6. The stakes score propelled Hit the Road to a start in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf, where he split the field when crossing the wire seventh but was disqualified and placed 14th for interference in the stretch.

Blacker gave Hit the Road one more start as a 2-year-old -- a fourth in the DeMille -- before putting him away for the winter and giving plenty of time to develop.

“So when you have a precocious horse like that -- he won the first 2-year-old turf race in California last year -- you do wonder if their 2-year-old year will be their best year, or if they can go on and be as good or better as an older horse,” Blacker said. “So I wanted to give him every chance. Rather than pushing on with him and keep running him -- he’d been in training almost a year at that point -- I wanted to give him every chance to prove himself as an older horse.”

On Friday, Hit the Road took a significant first step in that direction.

“He went into that race with a lot of obstacles to overcome,” Blacker noted. “He was the only 3-year-old in the race and it was his first start since [December]. He also typically likes to come from off the pace and it was a speed-favoring track with the rails out. There were all these things against him. But great horses overcome adversity, and he showed over the weekend he is a great horse.”

As Hit the Road provided Blacker with his first-ever Breeders’ Cup runner last year, the 38-year-old trainer noted it was particularly rewarding to see the colt continue to develop. Blacker has been training on his own since 2011 after previously serving as an assistant to Hall of Fame trainer Richard Mandella and Tom Albertrani, among others.

“Hit the Road is so professional, so resilient. He got back from the race the other day and went straight into the feed tub,” Blacker said. “He’s just a true racehorse. There aren’t many like that, and I feel so very fortunate to have him.

“I guess you can tell from my voice I love this horse,” Blacker added with a laugh.

Next up for Hit the Road is likely the Oceanside Stakes (G3) for 3-year-olds going a mile on the grass, a race that traditionally features on opening day of the Del Mar summer meet. Del Mar is scheduled to release its stakes schedule on Friday. However, Blacker added wheeling back in two weeks for the June 6 Cinema Stakes (G3) going 1 1/8 miles at Santa Anita is also an option.

“I’ll let the horse tell me when he’s ready," the trainer said. "They usually let you know in a week or 10 days how much it took out of them based off their weight and energy level. The most likely race would be the Oceanside on opening day of Del Mar, but there is also the Cinema here coming up in two weeks. I’m not counting that out, but it’s probably unlikely.”

Hit the Road is by More than Ready out of the U S Ranger mare Highway Mary. He went through the 2018 Keeneland September yearling sale but failed to meet his reserve after a final bid of $200,000. Hit the Road is campaigned by D K Racing, Radley Equine, Taste of Victor Stables, Rick Gold and Dave Odmark. 

Hit the Road wasn’t the only winner for Blacker over the weekend at Santa Anita. He also scored a maiden win with the 4-year-old gelding Muralist going a mile on the main track. 

“He’s like the other side of the spectrum from Hit the Road in terms of being precocious,” Blacker said. “He was not precocious at all, this guy. He’s a big, strong horse. But he still wasn’t fully developed even at the end of his 3-year-old year. It took a long time for him to really focus on running and knowing what to do. Now he’s really come together and learned how to operate as a functioning racehorse.”

Blacker said he would look to start the son of Street Sense in an allowance race before the end Santa Anita’s meet on June 21. 

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