A couple of weeks ago it looked like a foregone conclusion that Doug O’Neill would win another training title. After Lava Man’s win in the Gold Cup on June 30, O’Neill held a 26-18 advantage over nearest rival Jeff Mullins, who had gone on a hot streak just to get that close. With O’Neill’s huge stable, which starts about twice as many horses as Mullins’, he would surely roll to another crown. Not so fast. Since that day, O’Neill has not won a single race (17 starters), while Mullins has won four, cutting the margin to 26-22 with three racing days remaining. According to Brad Free of DRF, since June 6, O’Neill has won with 12 of 95 starters (13%), while Mullins has sizzled with 19 wins from 57 starters (33%).

Heading into Friday night’s card, here’s how things stack up between these two: O’Neill sends out favorites JAKE SKATE (5th) and RUDEAMEANIE (6th), as well as comebacker STARLET OF SEATTLE in the 7th. Mullins saddles contenders MI REY (1st) and READY MORE (5th), longshot JAKEDONTKNOW (6th) and second choice KARLEE’S KITTEN (7th). On Saturday, O’Neill sends out two modest threats while Mullins has only one starter. However, things could get very interesting on Sunday, when Mullins is loaded with four strong contenders while O’Neill has much less chance with three starters. If O’Neill doesn’t win one in the next two days, look for things to really tighten up on Sunday.

The battle for leading jockey appeared to be coming down to the wire but Michael Baze may have clinched things yesterday with his riding triple, while rival Joe Talamo had only one. The margin now stands at 69-63 into Friday night, and if Baze holds on he would become the youngest HP Spring/Summer riding champ since Bill Shoemaker in 1950. Whatever the case, these two have put on a magnificent riding show, far distancing themselves from third-place Victor Espinoza (36 winners). Don’t cry for Espinoza, however. He has dominated the stakes races with 13 wins, compared to five for Talamo and four for Baze.

Favorites (35% for the meet) dominated in the last two days, winning 10 of 16 races as field sizes have shrunk up to embarrassing levels lately. In fact, only three superfectas were allowed to be offered on Thursday’s card.

On Wednesday, another glaring example of what’s wrong with current Pick 4 rules when favorite SANDITA scratched in the paddock before the final race, shifting his Pick 4 combinations to the race favorite. When PARADISE PETE went favored and won easily, his payoff dropped from a will-pay of $565 to $141. This horrendous rule supposedly is going to be changed at the next CHRB Pari-Mutuel Committe meeting on July 20, allowing for consolation payoffs similar to Pick 3 rules….it seems that Mullins “second-time-out” has become a huge angle. His FREDDIE RUTH was dazzling after a modest debut, while ‘PETE also romped after a lackluster bow…Rafafel Becerra is unbelievable first off the claim (40%). TRICK A CAT won easily after being re-claimed by Becerra six weeks ago. She now goes to O’Neill…bug boy Tom Foley is just totally overmatched on this circuit. He is unable to rate speed horses and allowed STARTALE to run off to a ridiculous lead before falling apart in the 1 3/8-mile turf opener.

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