02/12/2009 12:00AM

Colonel John drills for Big Cap

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ARCADIA, Calif. - Colonel John will start in the $1 million Santa Anita Handicap on March 7 with only one race in the preceding four months, a fourth-place finish in the Grade 1 Malibu Stakes on Dec. 26.

Despite the absence of an active campaign, trainer Eoin Harty insists that Colonel John will be ready for the Big Cap over 1 1/4 miles.

"He will not be short," Harty said.

To ensure that, Colonel John worked seven furlongs in 1:25.87 between the third and fourth races at Santa Anita on Thursday.

Harty said that such a workout will help Colonel John stay on course for the Big Cap.

"He puts so much into each workout," he said. "He certainly has the credentials."

Ridden by Garrett Gomez, Colonel John worked alone, through fractions of 26.26 and 50.15 seconds. Harty timed the workout in 1:24.80.

Owned by WinStar Farm, Colonel John emerged from the Malibu with a pulled muscle in his hind end that led to some missed training time in January. Harty said Thursday that Colonel John will have three more workouts before the Big Cap.

Colonel John has won 5 of 11 starts and $1,483,830 in a career highlighted by wins in the Santa Anita Derby and Travers Stakes last year.

Colonel John will be part of a big field in the Big Cap. The race has 17 probable starters but only 14 will be allowed to race. The other probable starters are Blue Exit, Court Vision, Cowboy Cal, Dansant, Dixie Chatter, Informed, Magnum, Mast Track, Matto Mondo, Monba, Nownownow, Rail Trip, Slew's Tiznow, Tiago, Victory Pete, and Zambezi Sun.

Berrio reinstated after drug ban

Jockey Omar Berrio's six-month suspension for a cocaine positive has ended.

Santa Anita stewards Scott Chaney, Tom Ward, and Randy Winick issued a ruling Wednesday reinstating the 40-year-old jockey provided he continues to attend counseling and submits to random drug testing.

Berrio will be permitted to work horses in the morning but not to ride in a race until April 11, according to the ruling. Berrio will be on probation for the term of his license.

Last summer, Berrio was suspended after testing positive for cocaine in New York last May, while riding there briefly. New York officials contacted California Horse Racing Board investigators regarding the positive in August, which led to Berrio being retested in early August. The suspension was issued in August.

Last year, Berrio had 6 wins from 80 mounts and earnings of $442,572. He has not ridden since last June at Golden Gate Fields and worked primarily as an exercise rider before the suspension began.

Berrio will begin working horses "in a couple of days" for trainer A.C. Avila, according to Avila. Berrio was not available for comment.

Avila, who has given Berrio mounts since the early 1990s, said he has noticed a change in the rider in recent conversations.

"I hope he's learned a lesson," Avila said.

A native of Panama, Berrio has more than 500 wins in his career, including the Grade 3 Hawthorne Handicap aboard the Avila-trained River Savage at Hollywood Park in 2007.

Caprice wins La Zanzara Handicap

Caprice won her first stakes in the United States in Wednesday's $75,150 La Zanzara Handicap for fillies and mares. The problem for trainer Graham Motion is finding a similar race for Caprice in the near future.

The La Zanzara was run over 1 1/2 miles on turf, a distance seldom contested by fillies and mares in California.

"It's tough finding those mile and a half races," said Alice Clapham, Motion's assistant. "That's her thing."

Ridden by Rafael Bejarano, Caprice rallied from last in a field of six to win by 1 3/4 lengths in 2:29.97 over a good course.

"I think she liked a little cut in the ground," Clapham said.

Owned by NP Bloodstock, Caprice, a German-bred 6-year-old, has won 3 of 18 starts and $123,351. She was second in the Claire Marine Stakes at Arlington Park over 1 1/2 miles on the main track last fall and placed third in two stakes over 1 1/2 miles on turf last fall - the Dowager Stakes at Keeneland and the Hermosa Beach Handicap at Hollywood Park.

There are no additional races for fillies and mares over 1 1/2 miles on turf scheduled at the current Santa Anita meeting. If Motion chooses to reduce distance, Caprice could start in the $200,000 Santa Barbara Handicap over 1 1/4 miles on turf on April 18.

Santa Maria marks the end for pair

The Grade 1 Santa Maria Handicap is expected to be the final career start for at least two mares in the field - Leah's Secret, who is attempting to win her fourth consecutive stakes, and Marzelline, a minor stakes winner at Del Mar last summer.

Leah's Secret, winner of the Sunshine Millions Distaff and two Grade 2 stakes in her last three starts, is one of the leading contenders in the Santa Maria.

Marzelline won the CTT and TOC Handicap over 1 3/8 miles on turf last summer. She was second, by a nose, in the Grade 2 San Gorgonio Handicap here on Jan. 4.

"One more jump and she would have been a Grade 2 winner," trainer Ben Cecil said.

Cecil said that Marzelline will be retired and bred to Mr. Greeley in coming months "unless she wins the Santa Maria by 10."

Owned by Peter Harris, the 5-year-old mare, has won 4 of 17 starts and $193,407. The Santa Maria will be her first start on an American synthetic surface. She was second in an allowance race on Polytrack in England in August 2007.

"She's trained well on it," Cecil said. "That's why we wanted to take a shot."

Pioneerof the Nile back to the track

Pioneerof the Nile, winner of the Robert Lewis Stakes for 3-year-olds last Saturday, resumed main-track training Thursday, jogging at Santa Anita.

One of the top California-based contenders for the Kentucky Derby, Pioneerof the Nile ended his 2-year-old season in December with a win in the CashCall Futurity.

Trainer Bob Baffert said he has been impressed with the way that Pioneerof the Nile has handled his campaign so far, especially his appetite after his races.

"He's an eating" sonofagun, Baffert said. "They've got to be tough, but they've got to eat that night."