10/26/2006 12:00AM

Drake's Victory set for his best


NEW YORK - Saturday is California Cup Day at Santa Anita, with the $250,000 California Cup Classic topping a stakes-filled program of intriguing betting events. The $150,000 Fayette Stakes is the main event on the closing day program at Keeneland, while forecasted heavy rain promises to have a major impact on racing at tracks up and down the Eastern seaboard.

California Cup Mile

Drake's Victory came from way back to win this race last year, and is the play to do it again, as I believe he is primed for a big effort second start back off a long layoff.

Drake's Victory made his first start since his win in last year's Cal Cup Mile early this month. His performance, a sixth in a field of eight in the Blue Jay Way Stakes, doesn't look like much on paper. But he was coming off an 11-month absence, he faced open company, and went a distance that is shorter than what he prefers. The outing likely did, however, provide Drake's Victory with the tightener he needed for this assignment. His bullet workout earlier this week indicates he is on his toes now, and I like the fact that jockey Patrick Valenzuela stays with him.

The horse Drake's Victory has to beat is Unfurl the Flag, a sharp second against open company in the recent War Chant Stakes at this one-mile distance over this course, and a Grade 1 stakes winner last year. But between McCann's Mojave and Epic Power, Unfurl the Flag is going to have company on the early pace. Unfurl the Flag might be good enough to overcome that, but his price won't be good enough to make it worth paying to find out.

Fayette Stakes

Speed has gotten a little better on Keeneland's Polytrack over the last week, but primarily in sprint races. In distance races, off the pace is still the preferred running style, and I'm looking for Andromeda's Hero to mow down this field in the stretch.

Andromeda's Hero's recent form isn't as bad as it might appear at first glance. He was a distant third last time out in the Jockey Club Gold Cup, but was up against Bernardini; 'nuff said. His rallying fifth in the Woodward two starts back was actually a good effort, as he was compromised by a speed-favoring track. This is obviously a softer spot, and if he can run back to his third to Invasor in the Suburban Handicap four starts back, Andromeda's Hero will be hard to handle.

Just a note about Good Reward, the horse I picked in the Brooklyn, in which he was fifth, and again last time out in the Kentucky Cup Classic, where he was a clunk up third as horses around him had all sorts of trouble. I'm off Good Reward now. You have been warned.

California Cup Classic

Cheroot was a good third at a big price in this race last year, and I'm going with him to get the job done this time.

By going from turf to dirt Saturday, Cheroot is repeating the pattern that led to his surprising showing in last year's Cal Cup Classic. And if anything, Cheroot's recent turf form is better than it was going into this race last year, particularly his fourth last time out in the Del Mar Handicap, in which he led to deep stretch, and his win at Hollywood Park three starts back. There isn't much early speed in this Cal Cup Classic, and that is beneficial to Cheroot, who should get a good trip being forwardly placed from the start.