04/14/2010 11:00PM

Ellis has strong pair in San Simeon


ARCADIA, Calif. - With a proven commodity in Mr Gruff and an experimental project in Canonize, trainer Ron Ellis has a formidable duo in Saturday's Grade 3, $100,000 San Simeon Handicap at Santa Anita.

Mr. Gruff has excelled in turf sprints, winning four of his last five starts in hillside turf sprints, including the 2009 San Simeon Handicap. Canonize has won three of five starts in his career and will be making his stakes debut and first start on turf.

"Either one is capable of winning," Ellis said.

Mr. Gruff may go favored in the San Simeon, which is run over about 6 1/2 furlongs on turf, though Ever a Friend will be a short price. Mr Gruff, owned by Gary Broad, scored by 2 3/4 lengths in his only start this year, an optional claimer on the hillside turf course March 19.

Ellis said owners Mace and Samantha Siegel preferred starting Canonize in the San Simeon on turf as opposed to traveling to Churchill Downs for a stakes on the Kentucky Derby undercard May 1. The $100,000 Los Angeles Handicap at Hollywood Park on June 5 is the next stakes on a synthetic main track Ellis has considered for Canonize.

"He's ready to go, and we'll see how he runs on the turf," Ellis said.

The race has drawn a field of eight. Ever a Friend, the winner of the Grade 1 Frank Kilroe Mile in 2008, and Cherokee Heaven, the winner of the Impressive Luck Handicap on the hillside turf course in January, are viable contenders.

Ever a Friend is the richest horse in the San Simeon, with six wins in 22 starts and earnings of $526,568. Trained by Mike Mitchell, Ever a Friend returned from a four-month layoff to finish sixth, beaten 2 3/4 lengths, in the Frank Kilroe Mile on March 6. In his last start on the hillside turf course Nov. 5, he won an optional claimer.

Cherokee Heaven followed his win in the Impressive Luck with a second to Victor's Cry in an allowance race Feb. 3, his most recent start. A 6-year-old horse, Cherokee Heaven is trained by Marty Jones, who has won a career-best six stakes at this meeting.

Victor's Cry is entered in the San Simeon. He followed his Feb. 3 win in an optional claimer with a fourth in the Joe Hernandez Stakes on the hillside turf course March 7.

Oak Tree reaches lease agreement

The Oak Tree Racing Association and MI Developments, the parent company of Santa Anita, have reached a tentative agreement to continue the Oak Tree fall meeting at Santa Anita. The agreement is subject to the approval of a bankruptcy court, according to Oak Tree executive vice-president Sherwood Chillingworth.

Speaking at Thursday's California Horse Racing Board meeting, Chillingworth said discussions were held recently with MI Developments officials and that the lease agreement would be presented to a bankruptcy court in Delaware on Tuesday.

Chillingworth said he had a recent conversation with MI Developments chief executive officer Dennis Mills affirming the lease.

"Right now, in all in my judgment, we have a lease," Chillingworth said. "We've been affirmed for our lease, which I assume runs through 2016."

In another matter, the racing board was told approximately $644,000 is owed to Golden Gate Fields, Hollywood Park, and Oak Tree by New York City Off-Track Betting. NYC OTB could close as early as Monday after filing for Chapter 9 bankruptcy earlier this year. Recent efforts to restructure the company with New York state government have failed.

If the bankruptcy proceeds, it could be "one to two" years before the racing associations receive the money due, according to Bernie Thurman, a vice president at Hollywood Park.