Updated on 09/16/2011 7:41AM

A better shot for Royally Chosen

Benoit & Associates
Affluent, the likely favorite in Sunday's El Encino Stakes at Santa Anita

ARCADIA, Calif. - Ron McAnally and Bruce Headley will try to beat each other Sunday in the Grade 2 El Encino Stakes at Santa Anita. But going in, the trainers agree on one key aspect of this 1 1/16-mile race for 4-year-old fillies.

"The pace won't be as fast as last time," said McAnally, who starts likely favorite, Affluent.

"The pace will be softer without that brilliant filly [Above Perfection] in there pushing us," said Headley, who starts potential upsetter Royally Chosen*, the runner-up in the Grade 1 La Brea Stakes on Dec. 29.

While trainers spend less time than handicappers analyzing pace, McAnally and Headley agree the El Encino will unfold without the savagery of the La Brea. In that seven-furlong race, a fierce pace battle contributed to Royally Chosen's defeat and aided Affluent's late-running victory.

The dynamics change Sunday. An easier pace is expected for the El Encino, second leg of the La Canada Series. The field includes La Brea third-place finisher Love at Noon and seventh-place Graceful Cat, and two new shooters - Castling and Sea Reel. On paper, the El Encino is a three-filly race among the first three finishers from the La Brea.

Royally Chosen and Above Perfection battled through extreme fractions of 21.92 and 44.27 seconds in the La Brea, while Affluent lagged

14 lengths behind. Predictably, the pace took its toll, and Affluent rallied from behind to win going away. It was her second Grade 1 win, and her fifth from 11 starts for owner-breeder Janis Whitham. On Sunday, Affluent will try to win without the set-up she got in the La Brea.

"She'll probably be laying closer," McAnally said. "She can go to the lead or lay off. She hasn't missed a beat [since the La Brea]. I'd rather have another week, but we're all in the same boat."

A softer pace and a longer distance will benefit California-bred Royally Chosen, who has improved in the 22 days since the La Brea. "She came out of that race feeling super," Headley said. "It tuned her up. She's improved in the way she feels."

Headley would know; he regularly gallops his horses.

Royally Chosen, 3 for 7, will get a softer trip in the El Encino, but Love at Noon will insure no easy leads. Love at Noon was racing for the first time in six months when she finished third in the La Brea, and trainer Bob Baffert expects her to improve second start back.

Ultimately, however, the key to the El Encino is obvious. Said Headley: "Outrun McAnally."

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