03/03/2009 12:00AM

Frankel likes Zambezi Sun's chances


ARCADIA, Calif. - The sun came up, the stock market went down, and Bobby Frankel stayed bullish Tuesday on his two runners aiming to the $1 million Santa Anita Handicap on Saturday. Despite a sixth-place finish by Zambezi Sun in his U.S. debut and a recent seventh by Champs Elysees, Frankel said he believes both will improve, one in particular.

"I prefer Zambezi Sun," Frankel stated, and he was elated at how well Zambezi Sun galloped on the main track this week. "He's going to be tough, he's galloping very good."

Zambezi Sun is wheeling back on short notice. He ran Feb. 22 in the Grade 2 San Luis Obispo at 1 1/2 miles on turf, his first start in nearly five months. Frankel worried beforehand that Zambezi Sun would be too fresh. His concerns were justified when Zambezi Sun pulled hard, lugged out, and weakened.

"I thought something like that might happen," Frankel said. "I still thought he might win, but I was worried about him doing something like that."

The prep served its purpose by taking the edge off. In the Big Cap, Zambezi Sun "probably will be more comfortable, and there will be a pace in there," Frankel said. Zambezi Sun has trained super all winter on Pro-Ride, and benefits switching from turf to synthetic. A Group 1 winner in France, Zambezi Sun will be ridden by Victor Espinoza.

Frankel did not downplay Champs Elysees, whom he said was "doing great." However, the 6-year-old's ability is well-established after 11 starts in the U.S. Notwithstanding a Grade 1 victory in the Hollywood Turf Cup, Champs Elysees might be a cut below. Third in the Big Cap last year, Champs Elysees was compromised last time by a slow pace in the Grade 2 San Antonio.

In addition to Frankel's two runners, the field for the Big Cap is expected to include Einstein, Cowboy Cal, Colonel John, Court Vision, Tiago, Dansant, Magnum, Matto Mondo, Blue Exit, Monba, and Heroi Do Bafra.

Will O Way sharp for shot at Stardom Bound

Will O Way faced Stardom Bound twice last year and got drilled both times. Maybe the third time will be the charm. The improving Will O Way will try to upset her rival in the Santa Anita Oaks on Saturday.

Following her bullet five-furlong workout in 58.80 seconds last weekend, trainer Vladimir Cerin noted that "her work before last" - five furlongs in 59.60 - "wasn't bad either."

Consider it a ringing endorsement of Will O Way's condition. Though she was fully extended to win the $100,000 California Oaks by a nose at odds of 1-2 on Jan. 31 at Golden Gate, Cerin said, "If she got beat, she definitely would have had an excuse."

Will O Way bruised a foot and missed a key workout; she went into that Golden Gate race without working in the 20 days since her last start. But following the California Oaks, her foot healed, she has worked super, and Cerin said Will O Way has improved from her last start and from last year.

"She was a late May foal; her stride seems little more efficient" this year, Cerin said.

Russell Baze will ride Will O Way in a small Santa Anita Oaks field that will include Stardom Bound, Beltene, and Nan. Miss Silver Brook worked three furlongs Tuesday in 36.40 and also is being considered for the Oaks.

Hewitts unlikely to get easy lead in Kilroe

It seemed like a good idea for trainer Bob Hess Jr. to try to steal a two-turn Grade 1 with sharp sprinter Hewitts. But as the Frank E. Kilroe Mile on Saturday draws closer, Hess is increasingly realistic.

"It's hard to think you're going to beat Ventura even if you're gifted the lead," he said.

Trouble is, a lonely lead for Hewitts in the mile turf race is doubtful; off-form speedster Monterey Jazz will set the pace. That is too bad for Hewitts, who posted a fast, front-running allowance win last out.

"He's finally healthy," Hess said.

Hewitts has won 4 of 12, but has never raced two turns.

The likelihood of Monterey Jazz or Hewitts setting fast fractions would set up the Kilroe for the filly Ventura, whose expected rivals include Artiste Royal, Global Hunter, Dixie Chatter, and Mr Napper Tandy.

Empressive Lady opts for sprint

The Santa Anita Oaks was a tempting spot for Empressive Lady, the 3-year-old filly who dusted allowance fillies by 1 1/2 lengths Feb. 11, winning the six-furlong race in 1:09.33 with a 96 Beyer Figure.

Owner Michael House and trainer Jeff Mullins contemplated the 1 1/16-mile Oaks, but ultimately decided to keep her short and run March 29 in the Grade 3 Santa Paula Stakes at 6 1/2 furlongs.

"I'd like to see if we will have her number, and if we do, maybe we'll try to stretch her out again," Mullins said.

A flashy five-length maiden win last summer stamped Empressive Lady as a potential stakes filly, but after fading in two Grade 1 races against Stardom Bound, Empressive Lady was found to have an infection in her lungs that Mullins said "took a lot of time to get over."

Empressive Lady faded in her Jan. 17 comeback. "We were trying to rate her, and you can't. You just have to let her do her thing," Mullins said. "You can't fight with her, because she'll just give up."

Empressive Lady, by Empire Maker, has won 2 of 6, and her 96 Beyer ranks as the highest of the winter meet by a 3-year-old filly. The two-three finishers behind Empressive Lady in the allowance race - Music Magic and Cosmic Queen - are scheduled to run Thursday in raceo6.

Mullins said plans are undetermined for Baldwin Stakes winner Battle of Hastings, whom he suggested was likely to continue a turf campaign.

* Preemo, the 3-year-old colt who broke down in deep stretch Sunday in the Grade 3 Baldwin Stakes on the Santa Anita turf course, was euthanized. Trainer Jenine Sahadi said Preemo "shattered his knee" and could not be saved. Sired by Vindication, Preemo won 1 of 4.