10/26/2006 11:00PM

Few stand out - and that's just fine

Benoit & Associates
Texcess is winless in eight starts this year but his trainer is convinced that he is better than ever going into the Cal Cup Classic on Saturday.

Instead of lopsided standouts, Cal Cup 2006 features several vulnerable favorites, including morning-line choice Top This and That in the richest race on the card - the $250,000 Cal Cup Classic. His challenge is to overcome a speed-friendly track profile.

"The track has not been playing to his style at all," trainer Dan Hendricks said. "I'm a little surprised they made me the favorite."

Top This and That has zero speed, which does not mean he has zero chance. But at Santa Anita, front-runners almost always hold the edge going two turns on dirt.

Still, the competition is modest. Lava Man and Brother Derek are bound for the Breeders' Cup Classic, leaving a field hardly laced with stars. Texcess has not won in nearly two years; American All Star won the Bull Dog Stakes at Fresno last out; King Mobay was claimed for $16,000 two starts back. A big purse and a weak lineup will suit Texcess.

"You look at this field, and I think he's been running against tougher horses," trainer Mike Mitchell said.

A field of nine entered the 1 1/8-mile Classic, race 9 on a card that includes a $1 million-guaranteed pick six pool on races 6-11. In the other stakes:

* Graded winner Somethinaboutlaura enters as a legitimate favorite in race 4, the $150,000 Cal Cup Matron for fillies and mares at 1 1/16 miles.

* Moscow Burning, the all-time leading female Cal-bred money earner ($1,411,800) makes her career finale in race 5, the $100,000 Cal Cup Distance for fillies and mares at 1 1/4 miles on turf. Moscow Burning has lost a step, but with Cal-bred Grade 1 winner Dancing Edie gone to the BC Filly and Mare Turf, Moscow Burning is the chalk.

* Da Stoops inherited horse-to-beat status in race 6, the $150,000 Cal Cup Sprint, which will be run without leading statebred sprinters Bordonaro, Thor's Echo, or Areyoutalkintome. They run next week in the Breeders' Cup Sprint.

* Spot the Diplomat, third in the Grade 2 Norfolk last out, is the chalk in race 7, the $125,000 Cal Cup Juvenile at 1 1/16 miles.

* McCann's Mojave, winner of the Cal Cup Classic last year, is among a full field in the $175,000 Cal Cup Mile on grass, which goes as race 7. The 2005 winner, Drake's Victory, and front-runner Unfurl the Flag also entered; K C Nite Mayr may spring the upset.

* Cambiocorsa brings her eight-race downhill win streak into the $150,000 Cal Cup Distaff, race 10, a turf sprint on a unique course over which Cambiocorsa has never lost.

* And in race 11, the $125,000 Cal Cup Juvenile Fillies at 1 1/16 miles, the hodgepodge field includes Romance Is Diane and Kiss the Cooke. Mistical Plan would have been a contender, but she also shipped to Kentucky to run in either the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies or another graded stakes at Churchill Downs.

The Breeders' Cup is not the only competition for the Cal Cup, which began in 1990 as the only big show for California-breds. These days, the Cal Cup competes with two other statebred programs - the California Gold Rush in the spring at Hollywood Park and the Sunshine Millions in the winter at Santa Anita.

Nonetheless, 95 horses entered the 11-race Cal Cup card that begins with first post at noon, and the racing should be good, particularly the last five races, in which the average field size is nearly 10 runners.

No race is more wide-open than the Classic, in which front-runner American All Star will try to wire the field. Mike Machowsky claimed the gelding two starts back for $50,000 in his first start following a nine-month layoff.

American All Star set a fast pace in a one-mile stakes at Fresno, after which Machowsky plotted the Cal Cup.

"I might be jinxing myself, but he's coming into this race better than the last," Machowsky said. "And some of these horses seem like they're a little off form."

American All Star has not stretched his speed to the nine-furlong Classic distance, but the Santa Anita track has promoted speed throughout the autumn, and if the 7-for-29 gelding opens up, he could be gone.

As for the 118-pound topweight, Texcess, his trainer is convinced that he is better than ever.

"He gets good and bad, good and dull, but training on the Cushion Track [at Hollywood], he has trained very, very well," said Mitchell. "He's actually put weight on, which is good."

Because of Texcess's long drought, "It would be hard for me to bet him to win," the trainer said, "but if I'm going to win one of these, I think Saturday I can."

Other Classic starters include McNasty, Robador, Seven Nation Army, Cheroot, King Mobay, and Iced Out.