01/14/2011 5:31PM

Blind Luck has tall order in El Encino


ARCADIA, Calif. – Blind Luck overcame so many challenges racing coast to coast in 2010 that expectations are excessively high for 2011.

Nearly everywhere they traveled, Blind Luck and trainer Jerry Hollendorfer ended up in the winner’s circle – at Churchill Downs, Saratoga, Oaklawn Park, and Delaware Park.

Blind Luck stays home Sunday to launch her campaign in the Grade 2 El Encino Stakes at Santa Anita. But there will be no red carpet for the filly or the trainer, at least not until the Eclipse Awards ceremony Monday in Florida.

That is where Hollendorfer hopes to accept his first Eclipse trophy; Blind Luck is expected to be named champion 3-year-old filly after winning the Kentucky Oaks, Alabama, Fantasy, Delaware Oaks, and Las Virgenes at Santa Anita.

But the closers-friendly Santa Anita synthetic on which late-runner Blind Luck won last year was entirely different than the speed-friendly dirt surface she runs over Sunday. And no matter how well she trains, assistant Dan Ward recognizes the current track profile does not favor her style.

“Absolutely it’s a concern,” Ward said. “But she ran on a lot of tracks last year where they say you can’t beat the speed, and she won. Oaklawn Park is a speed track; Delaware Park is a speed track.”

Like it or not, Santa Anita is now on the list, and the front-runner-friendly surface is a big reason front-runners Champagne d’Oro and Always a Princess, and presser Malibu Pier, have an upset chance Sunday in the 1 1/16-mile El Encino for 4-year-old fillies.

A troubled second in the Grade 1, seven-furlong La Brea, lightly raced Malibu Pier could tuck into a cozy trip behind the speed while positioned in front of the stretch-running favorite. Carla Gaines trains Malibu Pier, who should get the jump on Blind Luck.

“First jump on her is like first jump on Muhammad Ali, you’re still going to be taken down,” Gaines said. “But you never know . . . it is horse racing.”

Blind Luck has won nine races and $2.3 million from 15 starts and has trained super for her first start since finishing second Nov. 5 in the Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic.

“She’s training well, she wants to run,” Ward said.

After an easy half-mile work Jan. 12, Ward said Blind Luck “came back jumping around, like she didn’t do anything.”

Joel Rosario rides Blind Luck, a late-runner on a surface kind to tactical speed. Going into Friday, 20 of the 23 main-track routes were won by horses within three lengths of the lead after the first half-mile; only one dirt route was won by a deep closer.

If the race unfolds as expected, Malibu Pier and jockey Garrett Gomez could get a dream trip. Malibu Pier was sandwiched and steadied at the start of the seven-furlong La Brea, away last, made an extended run, and finished second behind favorite Switch. Malibu Pier galloped out in front of the field.

Not bad for the fifth start of her career. Malibu Pier did not make her debut until July of her 3-year-old season. What took so long?

“It was nothing more than shins,” Gaines said. “She was almost ready to run and got shin-sore. We decided the time would do her good.”

Malibu Pier won three of her first four starts under Rafael Bejarano, including two route wins, prior to the La Brea with Gomez.

Bejarano might have ridden Malibu Pier in the La Brea but jumped instead to Bob Baffert-trained Always a Princess. Baffert and Bejarano entered the weekend 9 for 17. Always a Princess pressed the pace and tired to fourth in the La Brea.

“Rafael got to know her a little bit,” Baffert said, hinting that he expects an improved effort second start back.

Always a Princess has won three of seven.

Champagne d’Oro, sixth in the La Brea, drew the rail under Joe Talamo. From the inside post, she must utilize her speed. A two-time Grade 1 winner around one turn, Champagne d’Oro is trained by Eric Guillot, who is not concerned about the distance.

“That’s what she wants to do, go long,” Guillot said.

However, two recent subpar efforts cannot be ignored.

“I’m thinking she might need a little break,” Guillot admitted.

The El Encino is the second leg in the La Canada Series for 4-year-old fillies, which concludes Feb. 13 with the Grade 2 La Canada Stakes at 1 1/8 miles.

Other starters Sunday include minor stakes winners Fashion Trend and It Tiz, European import Our Georgia, and maiden winner Life Well Lived.