01/27/2016 3:36PM

Awesome Return back from layoff in Cal Cup Turf Classic

Benoit & Associates
Awesome Return will start on Saturday in the California Cup Turf Classic for statebreds at Santa Anita.

ARCADIA, Calif. – Awesome Return has won four times in his 16-race career, including consecutive wins in stakes for California-breds in the spring of his 3-year-old season in 2014.

The 2015 season was not as kind. Awesome Return was winless in six starts, leading trainer Mike Puype to give him a rest last fall.

“He needed some time off,” Puype said. “There were no injuries. He’d had a long campaign.”

The break ends Saturday when Awesome Return makes his ninth appearance in a stakes in the $250,000 California Cup Turf Classic for statebreds at Santa Anita.

Owned by breeder Richard Kritzski, Awesome Return has trained well in recent weeks, but Puype has concerns about a comeback in a race at 1 1/8 miles on turf. There is the additional factor of Santa Anita’s turf course, which is not as firm as it was in the spring of 2014.

“It’s a tough task to come back at a mile and an eighth with horses that are running,” he said. “It comes down to who likes the turf or doesn’t. It’s hard to say. He’s run some good races at Santa Anita, but the turf is different now.”

The Cal Cup Turf Classic is one of five stakes for statebreds on Saturday’s program. The Cal Cup Turf has a projected field of 13, led by Alert Bay, who won the race in 2015.

Puype has another stakes runner Saturday in Chati’s On Top in the $150,000 Sunshine Millions Filly and Mare Turf Sprint on the hillside turf course. The race is led by three-time stakes winner Sunday Rules, who missed the Grade 2 Santa Monica Stakes last Saturday because of an inflamed hock diagnosed early that week.

The $250,000 California Cup Derby at 1 1/16 miles on dirt will not include Found Money, the winner of the King Glorious Stakes for California-breds at Los Alamitos in December. Trainer Doug O’Neill said on Wednesday that Found Money is fighting an illness.

“He should be better in three or four days,” he said.

The favorite for the Cal Cup Derby will be the undefeated Smokey Image, a winner of four stakes in 2015. Smokey Image was trained by the Northern California-based Greg James for those races but was transferred to Carla Gaines at Santa Anita in November.