03/24/2008 11:00PM

Cost of Freedom preferred over Scrumpy

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ARCADIA, Calif. - Northern California shipper Scrumpy proved last month he belongs in Southern California. A former $4,000 claimer with a six-race win streak, Scrumpy shipped to Santa Anita for a first-level allowance for statebreds, and missed by a nose.

Based on that effort, Scrumpy is qualified to win the feature race Thursday at Santa Anita - a six-furlong first-level allowance for California-breds. The problem for Scrumpy is that although he returns at the same class level Thursday, he faces a much tougher field.

Notwithstanding his 9-for-17 career record, Scrumpy could be hard-pressed to maintain his sharp form while facing an above-average field of statebred sprinters.

Chief among his rivals is lightly raced Cost of Freedom, who returned from an 18-month layoff early this month and scored a four-length win that makes him the horse to beat again Thursday.

Carla Gaines trains Cost of Freedom, fresh off a romp over maiden-40 starter allowance runners. It was his first start since being gelded. Based on that comeback win, two solid works since, and a long-ago maiden win in which he earned a 98 Beyer Speed Figure, the 2-for-3 presser is the most likely winner Thursday under Tyler Baze.

The weird thing about the six-furlong race Thursday is the dearth of speed. Because few of the starters are front-runners, Cost of Freedom could fall into an easy lead.

Scrumpy raced on the lead in Northern California, but rallied from off the pace in his first Santa Anita start on Feb. 28. He raced wide, finished two clear of third, and earned a 94 Beyer, which is the highest last-start figure in the lineup. Jeff Metz trains the gelding, and Martin Garcia rides.

River Echo is racing into shape, and though he finished two lengths behind Scrumpy last time, River Echo enters on a conspicuous upward pattern. Thursday's start is his third start back from a layoff, and it should be his best. Marty Jones trains River Echo.

Cost of Freedom and River Echo are owned by Harris Farms, and are coupled in the wagering. Either can win, and the entry should be favored.

Partywithlarryz was a stopping front-runner until trainer John Sadler tried a different approach last out.

"We changed his style - we switched him back off the pace and he came up real big," Sadler said, explaining Partywithlarryz's maiden win. He needs further improvement to win Thursday.

Austie returns to his preferred surface. Roar of Eagles, 2 for 2, rises in class and his closing style is ill-suited to the likely tepid pace.