03/10/2008 11:00PM

Angus, Midnight Excess key to race


ARCADIA, Calif. - The shifting bias on the Santa Anita main track provides a potential advantage for attentive handicappers. But horseplayers who are too stubborn to adjust will discover a surface that is downright unforgiving.

For most of last week, Thursday through Sunday, the track favored rally-wide closers. The rail was perceived as dead, and front-runners required slow fractions to carry their speed. But the surface changed without warning Monday. Although the weather stayed warm, the color of the track became darker, the surface got quicker, the rail was fine, and front-runners were gone.

So how will the main track play Thursday? Who knows? Handicappers must prepare to adjust, and by the time the seventh-race feature is run, the bias - if there is one - should be clear. Ten older California-breds race 1 1/16 miles on synthetic, and the shape of the race depends on Angus and Midnight Excess.

Angus is a fast horse and only effective when he sets or presses the pace. He has won 1 of 6, and stretches to two turns after chasing a blistering pace in a seven-furlong sprint. Doug O'Neill trains Angus; his fast recent works suggest he still has his speed. Garrett Gomez rides.

The problem for the likely favorite is that two stalls to his outside, another fast sprinter is stretching out. Midnight Excess has never run long, and his best sprints have been when he is on top of the splits. He adds blinkers Thursday, switches to the main track, and figures to give Angus all he can handle up front. David Flores rides Midnight Excess.

If those two stay out of each other's way, and if the surface plays fair, either could win. But if the closers' bias returns, then the race 7 feature could unfold perfectly for Steven's Being.

Steven's Being has not hit the board in four starts on synthetic. However, the Thursday feature is the first time he has raced on the Santa Anita surface since the midseason refurbishment. If the gelding reproduces his turf form while racing on the new surface, he can win from behind under Rafael Bejarano.

Turf horses recently have fared well on the Santa Anita main track, and Steven's Being ran better than the line looks last time. He rallied from sixth to third while racing 1 1/8 miles on turf, a distance and surface combination that favors speed. If the two speed horses compromise each other out front, Steven's Being can win from behind.