INGLEWOOD, Calif. -- Dakota Phone showed what he can do on his best day with a 37-1 upset in the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile at Churchill Downs on Nov. 6. The problem is Dakota Phone does not string those performances together very often.
When the 5-year-old gelding starts in Saturday's $100,000 Native Diver Handicap at Hollywood Park, he will be attempting to win consecutive races for the first time in two years, since wins in an optional claimer at Hollywood Park and the Forty Niner Stakes at Golden Gate Fields in November 2008.
How the Grade 3 Native Diver unfolds will largely determine how Dakota Phone fares. The race is run over 1 1/8 miles, and Dakota Phone is a closer, who will need a pace to follow.
"This race is a mile and an eighth," said Dan Ward, trainer Jerry Hollendorfer's assistant. "I'd be worried if it was a mile."
In the BC Dirt Mile, Dakota Phone closed from last in a field of 12 with a five-wide rally to finish a head in front of Morning Line. With six rivals in the Native Diver, and only one confirmed pacesetter in Aggie Engineer, Dakota Phone may need to be closer to the pace than normal, though Ward says a major strategy change will not occur.
"I can't worry about it," Ward said. "We've got to let him run like he wants to run."
Dakota Phone has won 6 of 32 starts and $1,273,810.
The four-week gap between the BC Dirt Mile and the Native Diver has helped Dakota Phone recover from the signature win of his career, according to Ward.
"He just runs the last quarter-mile," Ward said. "It takes a lot less out of him with his running style."
Aggie Engineer is one of two starters in the field trained by Paddy Gallagher, who starts Soul Candy, a closer who won the California Cup Classic here Oct. 30.
Aggie Engineer led or disputed the pace throughout an optional claimer over 1 1/16 miles on Oct. 22 and is seeking his first stakes win for owners Ward and Roberta Williford.
"Since he's come back from Del Mar, he's stepped it up a bit," Gallagher said.
Gallagher said Soul Candy "won't be too far off of it" in search of his first graded stakes win.