09/26/2006 12:00AM

Der Ali ready to act like a stakes winner


Der Ali did not gain any respect when he won the minor Quicken Tree Stakes for California-breds at Hollywood Park in June. When he made his next start in an optional claimer against open company at Del Mar in August, Der Ali was sent off at 35-1 and finished ninth.

Der Ali is back with California-breds for Thursday's seventh race at the Oak Tree at Santa Anita meeting, a $44,000 optional claimer at 1 1/8 miles on turf. This time, trainer Jack Van Berg insists that Der Ali is ready to run as well as he did in the Quicken Tree.

"I think I ran him back too quick, so I backed off a bit," Van Berg said. "He should be back on his game."

A 5-year-old gelding, Der Ali is entered for a $32,000 claiming price. He does not face a tough field in Thursday's race, which drew a field of eight.

Der Ali is the only 2006 stakes winner in the field. All have started for a claiming price this year.

Van Berg also starts Proud Heritage, a two-time winner this year. Proud Heritage pulled a 53-1 upset in a maiden claimer at six furlongs in his career debut in May, and won a starter allowance at 1 1/16 miles on turf in his last start at Del Mar on Aug. 31.

"He went a distance last time and he's getting better," Van Berg said.

The likely favorite is Johnny High Brite, who was a troubled fourth in the Quicken Tree Stakes earlier this year. Trained by Craig Dollase, Johnny High Brite ran in graded stakes in 2005.

A winner of 2 of 18 starts, Johnny High Brite finished a troubled fourth in an optional claimer at a mile on turf at Del Mar on Aug. 30. Dismissed at 24-1, Johnny High Brite had traffic trouble in the stretch and was beaten only 1 3/4 lengths by Sea Battle. Johnny High Brite is entered to be claimed and will be ridden by Jose Valdivia Jr.

The eight-race program lacks depth. There are only 59 horses entered, including one five-horse field and two six-horse fields in the first three races.

Jockey Patrick Valenzuela, who has not ridden since the end of the Hollywood Park meeting in July after being hospitalized for undisclosed reasons in late summer, has four mounts. He does not have a mount in the feature race.