10/05/2009 11:00PM

Up front not the place to be


ARCADIA, Calf. - Speed was not holding the first week of the Oak Tree meet at Santa Anita, where pacesetters won only two of 28 races on the main track.

The profile was particularly blatant at six furlongs. Ten races at the distance produced one front-running winner - odds-on Crisis of Spirit got away with the slowest opening quarter of the week (22.75 seconds) and wired maidens on Sunday.

The handicapping riddles of Pro-Ride will challenge horseplayers Thursday in the best race at Santa Anita. Race 3 is a six-furlong allowance for 2-year-old fillies, with no shortage of heat.

Front-runners Laura's Pleasure, City to City, Washington Bridge, and Punctual figure prominently in a jammed pace scenario. Yet though Punctual has set the pace in all three of her starts, from the outside post in Thursday's seven-horse field, she might have options.

"I'd love to see her rate," trainer Peter Miller said. "She is drawn outside with [Rafael] Bejarano, who is great at getting one to relax. I'm hoping we can sit second or third, and maybe have some kick."

It would be the first time for Punctual, who won her first two setting the pace before she was cooked on a hot pace in the Grade 1 Del Mar Debutante.

"Maybe she wasn't that good anyway, but obviously she has run better numbers than that," Miller said, referring to her seventh-place finish.

Laura's Pleasure also drops from a tougher race at Del Mar. She pressed a fast pace Aug. 7 in the Grade 3 Sorrento, then faded to fifth. She has been freshened since, and from post 2 may have no option except go.

The first-level allowance sets up for closer Miss Heather Lee, making her first start for trainer Bob Baffert after a big maiden win and subsequent ownership change to Arnold Zetcher. Miss Heather Lee won a fast $100,000 maiden-claimer at Del Mar rallying from behind, while earning a Beyer Speed Figure of 80. Garrett Gomez rides the closer.

Baffert also has the top filly in race 7. Freedom Star drops from a stakes for 3-year-old fillies into a first-level allowance route for fillies and mares. Her good maiden win one back makes her the choice. She figures for a good trip behind likely pacesetter Merrily.

Dave's Revenge runs first off the claim for Jerry Hollendorfer, who hopes that frequent gate schooling has cured her from habitual slow starts.