03/31/2009 11:00PM

Aitcho sitting on breakout effort


ARCADIA, Calif. - At one point in 2007, Aitcho was so highly regarded by trainer John Shirreffs that he was considered the stable's leading 2-year-old.

It did not work out that way. Aitcho did not start until November of last year, well into his 3-year-old season. To some extent, Aitcho has made up for lost time by winning 2 of his first 5 starts.

Friday at Santa Anita, Aitcho will start in perhaps the most difficult race of his career, an optional claimer over a mile that has drawn a strong field. Aitcho could go from Friday's race into his first stakes, the $150,000 Mervyn LeRoy Handicap at Hollywood Park on May 9.

Owned by Jerry and Ann Moss, Aitcho was third in his last start, finishing 1 1/2 lengths behind Cherokee Artist in an optional claimer on March 7. Aitcho led throughout a maiden race on Dec. 31 and an allowance race on Jan. 24. On March 7, he closed from sixth in a field of 12 under regular rider Mike Smith.

"When Mike rode him the last race, he said if the horse would have let go of the bit a little sooner he would have won," Shirreffs said. "In the other races there was no speed and he almost inherited the lead. If he can drop the bit a little sooner, he can win."

Shirreffs thinks that Aitcho can develop into a top horse this year.

"We've really liked him a lot," he said. "He was our best 2-year-old."

That was a group that included Madeo, who won the Grade 2 Del Mar Derby last year and starts in Saturday's Grade 2 Arcadia Mile.

The LeRoy Handicap is also in the plans for Elysium Fields, who won his 4-year-old debut in an allowance race over 1 1/16 miles on Feb. 19 and is part of Friday's field.

"I liked his comeback race," trainer Neil Drysdale said. "I'm anticipating he should improve off that race. Hopefully, he's got a good future."

The Feb. 19 race was Elysium Fields's first start in nearly 11 months. Last year, when trained by Barclay Tagg, Elysium Fields finished second in the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth Stakes.

Friday's field of nine includes two stakes winners - Nikki'sgoldensteed, the winner of the 2008 Turf Paradise Derby, and Ball Four, a multiple stakes winner who is entered for a $62,500 claiming price.