03/04/2008 12:00AM

Ever a Friend's goal is BC Mile


ARCADIA, Calif. - It took Mike Mitchell only three months to transform Ever a Friend from $62,500 claimer to Grade 1 winner, and the trainer attributes the gelding's rapid improvement to the Cushion Track at Hollywood Park, and stretching to two turns.

Ever a Friend blazed a mile on turf in 1:33.37 Saturday at Santa Anita, winning the Frank Kilroe Mile by nearly four lengths with a final quarter-mile in a shade over 22 seconds. According to Mitchell, the turn of foot was partly the result of workouts on the forgiving Hollywood surface.

"He had some ankles on him when I claimed him, and Cushion Track has really helped him," Mitchell said. "It's the same thing with On the Acorn. He has some old ankles on him, and on Cushion Track I can really train them."

The win by Ever a Friend made it two straight since he was claimed Dec. 6 by owners Dan Capen, and Jeff and Steve Ustin. The race Saturday by Ever a Friend also was his first around a one-mile course.

"The biggest thing was two turns," Mitchell said.

And now, Mitchell will orchestrate a campaign that leads to the Oct. 25 Breeders' Cup, which will be run at Santa Anita.

"It's all Breeders' Cup Mile, that's the whole thing," Mitchell said. "I don't want to be too hard on him. I just want to have a sound horse when October comes."

Mitchell said that Ever a Friend, who earned a 105 Beyer Speed Figure, would not run until May 26 in the Grade 1 Shoemaker Mile at Hollywood Park.

Ever a Friend has won 5 of 18 starts, and though the Kilroe was his first start in a graded stakes, the 5-year-old gelding hinted at future class in the first start of his career. That was Oct. 1, 2005, in a maiden dirt sprint at Belmont Park, when he defeated subsequent Grade 1 winner Sunriver by more than five lengths.

Heatseeker to Oaklawn Handicap?

Heatseeker emerged Saturday as the top older horse in California, and the Santa Anita Handicap winner could take his show on the road. Trainer Jerry Hollendorfer said he and owner William de Burgh will consider the Grade 2 Oaklawn Handicap on April 5, while emphasizing that the only certainty for Heatseeker is that he will stay in North America.

Heatseeker earned a 110 Beyer Figure winning the Big Cap, his sixth win from 15 starts. Asked if there was any chance Heatseeker would ship to Dubai, Hollendorfer said, "Now is not the proper time for that."

"He came out [of the Big Cap] fine, and we're going to look at several options, including the Oaklawn Park Handicap," Hollendorfer said. "Mr. de Burgh might want to keep the horse in California, which is fine with me."

Zenyatta iffy after setback

Zenyatta is 3 for 3, and has not been seriously tested. But two months have passed since her impressive victory in the Grade 2 El Encino Stakes, and her participation Sunday in the Grade 1 Santa Margarita Handicap remains uncertain.

"It's going to be a late decision; we'll make up our minds in a couple days," trainer John Shirreffs said Monday.

Shirreffs said Zenyatta had a minor setback, but he declined to specify the nature of problem. He said Zenyatta missed "a little bit" of training since her Jan. 13 win in the El Encino. Entries for the Santa Margarita will be drawn Thursday.

Nashoba's Key will be the 122-pound highweight for the $300,000 Santa Margarita, which will be run without Grade 1 winners Hystericalady and Tough Tiz's Sis.

Hystericalady was shipping Tuesday to Oaklawn Park for the Azeri. Tough Tiz's Sis will pass because trainer Bob Baffert is dissatisfied with her assigned weight of 118 pounds. "I was going to run until I saw the weights," Baffert said.

Tough Tiz's Sis was assigned one fewer pound than she carried Feb. 9 when she finished a lackluster second in the Grade 1 Santa Maria. Double Trouble, upset winner of the Santa Maria, is expected to be the second topweight at 117 pounds.

Gayego staying put

Gayego, who captured the San Pedro Stakes on Jan. 20, will remain at Santa Anita for the Grade 2, $200,000 San Felipe Stakes on Marcho15 rather than travel to the Grade 3, $150,000 El Camino Real Derby on Saturday at Bay Meadows.

Trainer Paulo Lobo had been considering both races for Gayego's two-turn debut. Gayego trains at Hollywood Park, which has Cushion Track. Santa Anita also has a synthetic surface. Bay Meadows is the lone major Thoroughbred track in California that was given a waiver by the California Horse Racing Board to continue racing on dirt.

"He has been training awesome for me," Lobo said. "His last two works were very good. I feel more comfortable staying here."

The presence of Gayego in the 1 1/16-mile San Felipe will bring to three the number of sprint stakes winners at this meet who will be stretching out to two turns for the first time in that race. Gayego's rivals will include Bob Black Jack, the winner of the six-furlong Sunshine Millions Dash, and Georgie Boy, who took the seven-furlong San Vicente.

The San Felipe is a prep for the Grade 1, $750,000 Santa Anita Derby at 1 1/8 miles on April 5.

Reflect Times gets another chance

Reflect Times had a breathing disorder just before reaching the starting gate in the Grade 3 Sham under rider Mike Smith, and trainer John Shirreffs said the colt will try graded stakes one more time in the Santa Anita Derby.

"Mike said he displaced going to the gate, and he was a little lathered, which is unusual for him," Shirreffs said. "We'll give him one more shot."

Reflect Times won his first two starts in sprints, and finished third in the Grade 2 Robert B. Lewis prior to the Sham.

* The Santa Anita press corps defeated the racing office again in the annual Big Cap Day handicapping competition. However, the racing office claimed foul, the match was ruled "no contest," and a rematch is set for April 5. The contest is based on mutuels, and though stakes coordinator Zachary Soto selected a $46.20 winner, it was not enough to carry the slumping racing office. It was determined that a press entry came in late, forcing nullification. The racing office will have a last-ditch chance on Aprilo5, Santa Anita Derby Day.

* San Luis Obispo Handicap winner Spring House has been invited to Dubai for the $5 million Sheema Classic on March 29, according to trainer Julio Canani. He said Garrett Gomez would ride Spring House in the 1 1/2-mile turf race. Owned by R.D. Hubbard, Spring House has won 6 of 30 in his career.

- additional reporting by Jay Privman