05/29/2010 11:00PM

Compari on brink of star status

Benoit & Associates
Compari goes for his seventh consecutive victory in Monday's Shoemaker Mile.

INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Compari's perfect year, with wins in three stakes, has transformed the 4-year-old colt from a statebred stakes winner to a potential star turf miler.

His gritty win in the Grade 2 Arcadia Handicap at Santa Anita showed he can compete against open company. A win in Monday's $250,000 Shoemaker Mile at Hollywood Park would prove he can beat some of the nation's best.

"This could take him to another level," trainer Marty Jones said.

A winner of six consecutive starts over the last 14 months for his owner-breeders John Harris, John Nicoletti, and Don Valpredo, Compari has drawn the outside post in a field of 10 and is likely to be favored.

The Shoemaker Mile is the feature race on a strong 10-race program that begins at 1 p.m. Pacific. Earlier in the day, there are two stakes -- the $60,000 Willard Proctor Memorial Stakes for 2-year-olds and the $150,000 Honeymoon Handicap for 3-year-old fillies on turf.

The Grade 1 Shoemaker Mile will be Compari's first start since the Arcadia, though the layoff was not by design. Compari was the morning-line favorite for the $100,000 Inglewood Handicap on April 25, but was withdrawn because of concern over a foot. The issue was not a long-term problem, allowing Compari to resume training within days.

Jones said that Compari did not lose any fitness that week.

"He's the kind of horse that gets a lot of out his gallops," Jones said.

Joel Rosario will ride Compari, replacing Garrett Gomez, who is riding at Monmouth Park on Monday. Rosario has ridden Compari once, to a third-place finish in a maiden race in February 2009, the colt's only loss in seven career starts.

In the Shoemaker, Compari is likely to be near the lead, probably in pursuit of Mr Gruff, who drew the rail. Compari has led in his three stakes wins this year, but has raced from just off the pace in the past. Jones was not overly concerned about race tactics on Saturday, a day after entries were drawn.

"I'll leave it up to Joel and play it by ear," Jones said. "I think the horse is doing well."

Mr Gruff will ensure the race is run at an honest pace. A 6-year-old gelding owned by Gary Broad, Mr Gruff has won his last four starts, including consecutive runnings of the Grade 3 San Simeon Handicap on the hillside turf course at Santa Anita. Mr Gruff has never run beyond 6 1/2 furlongs on turf, and trainer Ron Ellis has spent the weeks since the San Simeon on April 17 teaching the gelding how to conserve some speed.

"We've been working on that since that race, trying to build his stamina," Ellis said. "He won't have to go a half-mile in 43 [seconds]. This will be different."

The rail draw did not overly concern Ellis, since Mr Gruff is naturally quick.

"He's speed and that's a good place to be," Ellis said. "It takes options away but he probably would do that anyway."

The trainer did express concern about Hollywood Park's turf course, worried that it would be firmer than preferred. Mr Gruff has never started on Hollywood Park's turf course, but has worked over the surface, including seven furlongs in 1:26.40 on May 23.

"He worked a good seven-eighths on it last week," Ellis said. "The course had more moisture in it because we had a cool week."

If those horses set a torrid pace, closers such as Global Hunter, the winner of the Grade 1 Eddie Read Stakes at Del Mar last July, and Gallant Son, the sharp winner of the Grade 3 Inglewood Handicap last month, would be well-suited. Global Hunter has not started since finishing second in the Oak Tree Mile last October.

The Shoemaker field includes one shipper in Karelian, who is having an outstanding year for trainer George Arnold and Green Lantern Stable. An 8-year-old gelding, Karelian won the Tampa Bay Breeders' Cup in February, defeating 2009 champion turf male Gio Ponti, and won the Grade 1 Maker's Mark Mile at Keeneland in April.

Karelian, who is likely to stalk the pace, was sixth in the Breeders' Cup Mile at Santa Anita last fall, the gelding's only previous start in Southern California.