02/27/2010 1:00AM

Compari returning from illness

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ARCADIA, Calif. - Compari picked the wrong day to get sick. Expected to set the pace in $500,000 Sunshine Millions Classic, he never got the chance.

Compari woke up with a cough Jan. 30, and trainer Marty Jones scratched him and put him on antibiotics.

"He missed five days and just walked," Jones said.

Now it is a month later, and Sunday at Santa Anita, Compari gets another chance. He runs a mile on turf in the $100,000 Crystal Water Handicap, and if his preparation had been less problematic, perhaps Jones would be confident.

"I haven't run a horse in five years that I haven't had concerns about," Jones said. Compari "had setbacks with the respiratory infection, and he missed training with the weather. But the last two or three weeks he seems to be back to himself."

His rivals include Liberian Freighter, the 2009 Crystal Water runner-up who will provide a stiff challenge up front. Red Sun would figure, but owner John Harris may not be keen to enter another speed horse against his front-runner Compari.

Other starters in the race for California-breds include Live Sunday, Kalookan Storm, Swift Winds, Jack's Wild, and Enriched.

Garrett Gomez rides Compari, whose challenges include weather and pace. Heavy rain was expected Saturday; the Crystal Water is one of four grass races Sunday. Compari is expected to start regardless, though Jones said, "I'd prefer to run on grass."

Front-runners Liberian Freighter and Live Sundays potentially complicate matters for Compari.

"On paper, there is pace, and he is a horse that likes to get into the race early," Jones said.

Compari has won 4 of 5.

Liberian Freighter had been off eight months when he returned Feb. 3 with a fourth-place finish in an allowance sprint that unfolded unfavorably for his pressing style. Neil Drysdale trains Liberian Freighter, who has demonstrated the ability to sit off the pace. A 6-for-17 veteran, Liberian Freighter will be ridden by Rafael Bejarano.

The status of Harris-owned Red Sun is undetermined. After his sharp allowance win Jan. 30, trainer Carla Gaines pointed him toward the Crystal Water. But the redirected campaign of Compari may cause Red Sun to scratch. Red Sun has won three straight.

Jack's Wild, an 8-year-old, and Swift Winds, a 7-year-old, both have lost a step, but their off-the-pace running styles could play well in the speed-filled race.