02/22/2011 12:38PM

Celestic Night still improving heading into Santa Anita turf sprint

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ARCADIA, Calif. – The best performance of Celestic Night’s career – so far – was a victory in a first-level optional claimer for turf sprinters at Santa Anita last month, when he rallied from fifth to prevail by 2 1/4 lengths at 13-1.

Celestic Night will not be an outsider when he tries to duplicate that performance in a $63,000 no-conditions allowance race on the hillside turf course in Thursday’s seventh race.

Since his last start, Celestic Night has shown trainer Neil French further patience during turf workouts, giving the trainer a reason to be optimistic that the colt can win on Thursday, and stretch his speed farther this spring.

“I think we have a good chance,” French said. “Everything seems to be real positive. He’s had time between races, he’s had good works, and it’s his second time down the hill.

“I think the turf works will help him. He needed to settle more in his races. I think there is more room for improvement if he settles in his races. He’ll go two turns when he relaxes more.”

Owned by Marco Gonzalez, Celestic Night was an accomplished 2-year-old, winning the minor C.B. Afflerbaugh Stakes at Fairplex Park in September. Celestic Night was later unplaced in three stakes in the fall and early winter.

Celestic Night is one of two stakes winners in the field, joined by the speedy Machisa, who is making his first start in California, having raced in Florida and Kentucky at 2. Now trained by Jenine Sahadi, Machisa won the Fasig-Tipton Dash over five furlongs on turf at Calder last August.

The well-traveled Metropolitan Man, second to Celestic Night on Jan. 13, is expected to set a quick pace. He beat maidens early in his 2-year-old season at Keeneland, and finished ninth in a race at Royal Ascot in England in June before joining trainer Vladimir Cerin’s stable last fall.

Cerin warned on Monday that Metropolitan Man missed a workout last week because of wet weather.

“Even if he’s short I’ll run him,” Cerin said. “He’s training well. I’d rather run a short horse that’s sound.”

Aside from Metropolitan Man, there are three other runners with European experience, including Easy Ticket and Memen, making their American debuts, and Diamond Geezah, third behind Celestic Night last month.

Easy Ticket, now trained by Jim Cassidy, won twice over six furlongs in England last year.