01/01/2009 12:00AM

Black Seventeen at crossroads

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Barbara D. Livingston
Black Seventeen is part of a five-horse field in the Grade 3 El Conejo, run over 5 1/2 furlongs at Santa Anita on Thursday.

ARCADIA, Calif. - Black Seventeen's 2009 campaign will be defined by Thursday's $100,000 El Conejo Handicap at Santa Anita.

If he runs well, he is likely to race primarily in Southern California through the year. If he bombs, Black Seventeen will be a frequent traveler in 2009.

Trainer Brian Koriner admits he does not know what to expect. Black Seventeen won the Grade 1 Vosburgh Stakes on a sloppy track at Belmont Park in September, but was only seventh in the Breeders' Cup Sprint on the Pro-Ride main track here on Oct. 25.

"We want to see how he handles the synthetic," Koriner said. "His last race was disappointing in the Breeders' Cup. This will tell us if he can run on it again. He kind of hopped in the air in the Breeders' Cup."

Koriner said Black Seventeen's recent training offers no clues as to what to expect on Thursday.

"He's not a good work horse and it's hard to get any gauge on him in the mornings," Koriner said.

Black Seventeen is part of a five-horse field in the Grade 3 El Conejo, run over 5 1/2 furlongs. The field includes two speedy horses owned by Gary and Cecil Barber - the recent Florida import Machismo and It's in God's Hands, a former maiden claimer making his stakes debut.

Black Seventeen is fast enough to control the race, Koriner said, although he also can stalk the pace.

"They're not as fast as him," Koriner said.

Black Seventeen will need a comfortable lead turning for home. The graded stakes winners Johnny Eves and In Summation will be in pursuit.

Johnny Eves won the Grade 3 Vernon Underwood Stakes on Nov. 22 in his last start, his only win in eight races in 2008. Johnny Eves won the Grade 1 Malibu Stakes here in 2007.

"I'd like to be lying close and not on the front end," trainer Jay Robbins said.

In Summation won the 2008 El Conejo and the Grade 2 Palos Verdes Handicap three weeks later. He is winless in his last five starts, including a fourth in the BC Sprint. In Summation will wear blinkers in the El Conejo.

"He's breezed well in the mornings with blinkers," said Nicholas Bachalard, assistant to trainer Christophe Clement. "I think it's the right race to try them."