01/26/2017 3:26PM

Cal Cup offers great racing before and after Pegasus

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Shigeki Kikkawa
Ashleyluvssugar is favored in the California Cup Turf Classic on Saturday.

ARCADIA, Calif. – On a day when the richest California-bred in history makes the final start of his career in Florida, the richest Cal-bred program of the season takes place back home at Santa Anita.

The California Cup – five statebred stakes topped by the $250,000 California Cup Turf Classic – does not include California Chrome, who runs Saturday at Gulfstream Park in the $12 million Pegasus World Cup. But his shadow, and that of the Pegasus, stretches across the country.

Santa Anita’s post times Saturday were revised to accommodate the 10-race local card and the Pegasus simulcast from Gulfstream that will be run between races 6 and 7. First post at Santa Anita is 11:45 a.m. Pacific.

Ashleyluvssugar is favored in the Cal Cup Turf Classic, a 1 1/8-mile race that normally would be easy pickings for the multiple graded stakes winner. This year, the race came up tough – five of the 10 entrants are graded stakes winners, including Grade 1 winners Ralis (2015 Hopeful) and What a View (2016 Frank Kilroe Mile).

Ralis was considered for the Pegasus until revaluation by trainer Doug O’Neill and owner-breeder J. Paul Reddam. “One race is a mile and an eighth on turf against Cal-breds, and one race is against Arrogate and California Chrome,” O’Neill said.

Rather than running the turf horse Ralis on dirt in the Pegasus, O’Neill and Reddam sent Semper Fortis to Gulfstream, hoping to hit the board. Home in California, O’Neill and Reddam will be represented in all five Cal Cup stakes by progeny of Square Eddie.

“The Square Eddies have just been phenomenal,” O’Neill said.

There are plenty in the Cal Cup. Smoove It returns in the $150,000 Sunshine Millions Filly and Mare Turf Sprint, race 2, facing Enola Gray. How About Zero is an outsider in the $200,000 California Cup Oaks, race 5 at a mile on turf. Sircat Sally is favored but is no lock due to surface and pace.

Jimmy Bouncer is a contender in the $150,000 Donald Valpredo California Cup Sprint, race 6. The six-furlong race sets up for Grade 3-winning closer Solid Wager. The improving Ann Arbor Eddie seeks his second stakes win in the $250,000 Cal Cup Derby, race 9, a dirt route in which his main rival is the lightly raced Coils Gold.

Between the 2:21 post time for the race-6 Cal Cup Sprint and the 3:12 post for the race-7 Cal Cup Turf Classic, the Pegasus will be run with a scheduled post time of 2:44 Pacific.

Although the Turf Classic is coming up easier than the Pegasus for Ralis, he is not the most likely winner. The role of favorite goes to Ashleyluvssugar, a fresh veteran with three Grade 2 victories and an alibi for finishing second last out as the odds-on favorite.

“I came back a little quick with him,” trainer Peter Eurton said regarding the 20-day turnaround. “He just didn’t run his best race.”

Ashleyluvssugar did not run poorly in the Grade 2 Hollywood Turf Cup, but the odds-on favorite offered little resistance when Texas Ryano ran past him to win by more than three lengths. It was not the Ashleyluvssugar who had finished a creditable fifth in the Breeders’ Cup Turf following successive Grade 2 wins.

Eurton is confident that Ashleyluvssugar will rebound in the Cal Cup. “He seems like he’s going really well, and his last work was great,” Eurton said.

Ashleyluvssugar figures for a good trip behind likely pacesetter What a View, who won the Cal Cup Turf Classic a year ago but has yet to regain top form.

He Will is an improving allowance horse who ran better than the line shows last out; Patriots Rule is a three-time Cal-bred stakes winner who will roll late; Tamarando was a Grade 1 winner at age 2; and Poshsky is a Grade 3 winner.

KEY CONTENDERS

Ashleyluvssugar, by Game Plan
Last 3 Beyers: 100-102-102

◗ Flavien Prat takes over for Gary Stevens on Ashleyluvssugar. Prat worked him a slow five furlongs Jan. 16.

◗ Ashleyluvssugar has won eight races and $1,007,504 from 19 starts.

He Will, by Cyclotron
Last 3 Beyers: 92-103-95

◗ An improving 5-year-old trained by Jerry Hollendorfer, he finished eighth last out in a Grade 3 turf sprint. “We were using that race as a prep for this race,” Hollendorfer said.

◗ He Will was purchased privately from breeders Old English Rancho in 2015, went to the sidelines in late summer, and gradually improved as 2016 unfolded, winning back-to-back allowance races in the fall.

“All horses come along in their own time; he’s matured a lot,” Hollendorfer said. Rafael Bejarano, who is 2 for 2 on He Will, regains the mount.

What a View, by Vronsky
Last 3 Beyers: 98-89-99

◗ The likely pacesetter, he has yet to regain the 2016 form that produced four straight wins. What a View, trained by Kenny Black, drops from a Grade 2 and will be ridden by Tyler Baze.

Ralis, by Square Eddie
Last 3 Beyers: 101-97-97

◗ He finished behind Ashleyluvssugar twice last fall. A deep closer, he will be ridden by Mario Gutierrez. Ralis has won 2 of 16; his runner-up finish in the Del Mar Derby in September puts him in the hunt.

Patriots Rule, by Tribal Rule
Last 3 Beyers: 92-91-96

◗ Robertino Diodoro and assistant Sean Williams train the comebacking closer, who was compromised by a speed-conducive turf course in both of his starts during the fall meet at Santa Anita.