02/20/2008 12:00AM

Any budding stars in this group?


ARCADIA, Calif. - It is not too late for the 10 3-year-olds entered in an optional claimer at Santa Anita on Friday to make an impression on the Triple Crown trail.

After all, it was during this week in 1999 that eventual Kentucky Derby winner Charismatic finished second in a seven-furlong allowance race, a loss preceded by a win in a $62,500 claimer earlier that month.

The problem with Friday's seventh race, which is run at 1 1/16 miles, is choosing which of the 10 runners to follow. There are several candidates.

The role of favorite is likely to go to On the Virg, the sharp winner of a maiden race at 1 1/16 miles on Jan. 13. On the Virg will be ridden by Garrett Gomez, who was aboard for the maiden win.

But in recent weeks On the Virg has missed a "work or two" because of wet weather in California, according to Michael McCarthy, Todd Pletcher's assistant trainer.

"Anytime you think you're a work short, you're concerned," McCarthy said. "We need to get the ball rolling with him. We're hoping he's got enough class."

Limestone Edge beat maidens going a mile in his last start, but that was back in November. Trained by Bob Hess Jr., Limestone Edge is adding blinkers.

One colt with a flashy recent workout is Southwest, whose last three starts were on turf. Trained by Gary Mandella, Southwest worked six furlongs in 1:11.80 last Friday, the fastest of 19 recorded works at the distance. The quick work was a relief to Mandella, who said that Southwest emerged from an eighth-place finish in the Eddie Logan Stakes on Dec. 29 with a pulled muscle.

"I had to baby him a bit," Mandella said. "I think he's back doing well again. It's a good time of year to find out how he runs on the main track."

Three entrants, all stakes-placed, are making their first starts around two turns. Winsome Charm and Afleet Ruler were second and third in the Sunshine Millions Dash for California-breds and Florida-breds at six furlongs on Jan. 26. Winsome Charm is trained by Ral Ayers, an assistant to Jeff Mullins, who is serving a 20-day suspension.

Cardinal Zin, who has drawn the outside, was third in the San Pedro Stakes on Jan. 20. Trained by Paddy Gallagher, Cardinal Zin overcame a poor start to win a six-furlong maiden race at Hollywood Park on Dec. 22, rallying from sixth in the final quarter-mile.