10/13/2004 11:00PM

Ata Olympio brings unbeaten record to Starter


ARCADIA, Calif. - The unbeaten Ata Olympio will face his most difficult test in Saturday's $50,000 California Cup Starter Sprint Handicap at Santa Anita, one of two races for claimers on the 10-race program.

The Starter Sprint Handicap, a six-furlong main-track race, is the second race; the $50,000 Starter Handicap at 1 1/2 miles on turf is the fifth race. The Starter Handicap drew a field of 10 and is wide open.

The Starter Sprint Handicap drew nine runners, including northern California invader Smoke Till Dawn, who has won five consecutive starts, and Forward March, who won two consecutive $16,000 claimers at Del Mar. The race is restricted to horses who have started for claiming prices of $32,000 or less this year.

Ata Olympio races for trainer Eugene Burnison's Circle B Ranch. A 3-year-old gelding, he won a $32,000 claiming race for maidens and a starter allowance race last spring, both against open company. He returned after a five-month layoff to win a first-condition allowance race for statebreds over six furlongs in 1:08.84.

Ata Olympio is likely to be part of the pace along with Smoke Till Dawn. Trained by Kent Molinaro, Smoke Till Dawn won a six-furlong optional claimer at Bay Meadows on Sept. 15 in his last start. Smoke Till Dawn has led throughout each start of the current winning streak. All five races have come against open company. They were: an allowance race at Bay Meadows, a $40,000 claimer at Pleasanton, starter allowance races at Santa Rosa and Sacramento, and the recent optional claimer at Bay Meadows.

Smoke Till Dawn, 5, is eligible for this race after being claimed for $32,000 on Jan. 14. A year ago, he won a $6,250 claimer at Bay Meadows over a mile.

Forward March could be well-placed if a speed duel develops. At Del Mar, Forward March tracked the leaders in his victory on Aug. 8 and engaged the leaders from the start on Sept. 4.

The Starter Handicap, restricted to horses who have started for $40,000 or less, is more of a puzzle. Most of the field is unproven over the marathon distance. The exception is Noble Kinsman, who won the Starter Handicap in 2002. He has won 2 of 11 starts since then, for claiming prices of $8,000 and $10,000.

Aside from Noble Kinsman, Tiz a Coup is the only horse to try the distance. He finished fifth in the Quicken Tree Stakes at 1 1/2 miles on turf at Hollywood Park last June.

Ring of Friendship shares high weight of 117 pounds. The Starter Handicap will be his first start since a third-place finish in an optional claimer for statebreds at Del Mar on Aug. 21. A front-runner, Ring of Friendship may try to lead throughout, a difficult job over the distance.

Fly and Eagle also carries 117 pounds. Trained by Allen Severinsen, Fly and Eagle was claimed in his last start for $25,000, a win over a mile on turf at Bay Meadows.

Fly and Eagle has a stalking style, which should allow him to be effective beyond a mile.