Updated on 09/16/2011 6:44AM

Is back class enough?

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Michael J. Marten/Horsephotos
Squirtle Squirt faces a tough field in the Palos Verdes, his first start since winning the BC Sprint.

ARCADIA, Calif. - Breeders' Cup Sprint winner Squirtle Squirt is not expected to lose the Grade 2 Palos Verdes Handicap on Sunday at Santa Anita, despite trainer Bobby Frankel's admission that the screws are not completely tightened for his first start back.

"He'll run okay, but I haven't really cranked on him," Frankel said. "I'm not killing him to get ready; hopefully his class will come out."

Seven others - including graded stakes winners Ceeband, Men's Exclusive, and Snow Ridge - hope Squirtle Squirt is vulnerable in his first start since Oct. 27.

Squirtle Squirt runs well fresh, though he is facing a tougher field than the last time he returned from a layoff with a facile win. Owned by David Lanzman, the 4-year-old Squirtle Squirt has won eight races and more than $1 million in 14 starts. He will be ridden by Jerry Bailey.

Men's Exclusive won the six-furlong Palos Verdes last year at age 8, but his trainer, Wesley Ward, is less confident this time around. "Younger sprinters off layoffs - they're tough," Ward said, referring to Squirtle Squirt. "But older sprinters off layoffs, sometimes they need one."

Men's Exclusive has won 10 races and more than $1.1 million from 35 starts, but will be starting for the first time since Dec. 2. Ward describes him better than he was going into the Cal Cup, when he finished fourth, but not as good as he was before his winning effort in the Underwood. Laffit Pincay Jr. rides Men's Exclusive.

Ceeband also has not raced since fall, though trainer John Sadler is optimistic this California-bred will fire in his first start back. Winner of three stakes since Sadler claimed him for $62,500 last March, later-running Ceeband needs help up front.

"It'll take a fast pace for him to win," Sadler said, adding: "There's enough speed in there, but it'll have to set up the right way. My horse is doing super."

The sleeper in the race is Snow Ridge, who sprang an 18-1 upset Jan. 1 in the 5 1/2-furlong El Conejo Handicap. Snow Ridge faces tougher Sunday. "When he fires, when he puts it all together, he's as good as any," trainer D. Wayne Lukas said. "Hopefully, as he matures, he'll become more consistent."

Snow Ridge earned a 102 Beyer Speed Figure in the El Conejo, two points shy of his career best. Squirtle Squirt's last five Beyers are 107 or above.

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