10/17/2006 12:00AM

Downtown Sanger has most upside


ARCADIA, Calif. - Downtown Sanger was not supposed to win last time out. Few horses can win after breaking from post 12 in a one-mile turf race at Santa Anita.

But the improving 3-year-old accomplished the improbable. Despite the outside spot, Downtown Sanger raced wire to wire in the maiden race for California-breds, becoming only the fifth horse this decade at Santa Anita to win from post 12 at a mile on grass.

Thursday at Santa Anita, Downtown Sanger drew an easier post against tougher company in the race-7 feature at a mile on turf. Trained by Chuck Peery, Downtown Sanger will break from post 2 in the field of seven that entered the first-level California-bred allowance.

To win the race, Downtown Sanger must avoid a duel with distance-challenged front-runner Shootist and then hold off closers Ferndale Sal and Cut Trail. Beautifier and Deep Powder also entered, while Hot Grip has a long history of outrunning his odds and gets a pivotal jockey change.

Downtown Sanger was claimed by Peery for $40,000 off a third-place debut, and 10 days later stretched out to a mile and finished second. He switched to grass Sept. 29 and overcame the post to score an 8-1 upset over a suspect field in slow (1:35.62) time. But so what? Downtown Sanger is lightly raced, improving, and figures to get a better trip Thursday.

Clinton Potts rode Downtown Sanger and Ferndale Sal last time. It is Potts' misfortune they return in the same race. And there is little doubt that Ferndale Sal can win. The 3-year-old colt finished a troubled second in a $50,000 claiming sprint for 3-year-olds last time, and trainer Barry Abrams is confident the colt will improve Thursday.

"He's better going a distance - his best races are going a mile," Abrams said. But Ferndale Sal also has raced 16 times (two wins), and does not have as much upside potential as Downtown Sanger.

Cut Trail is a 1-for-13 gelding returning from a two-month layoff for Neil Drysdale. Shootist will set the pace from the rail, but his form went steadily downhill this summer through an ambitious Del Mar campaign. He raced four times at Del Mar and was eased in his last start.

Hot Grip enters as a viable longshot candidate, same as always. He has won six races (the rest of the field has combined to win seven), and he has a longshot history. Hot Grip's last five wins have been at odds of 27-1, 25-1, 12-1, 7-1, and 44-1.