09/20/2008 12:00AM

Hard to decipher closing-day feature


A tough optional claiming sprint tops closing day of the Fairplex meeting Monday. The $43,000, 6o1/2-furlong event for 3-year-olds and upward, lured a field of nine. There's no clear-cut favorite, though the bulk of the money figures to go to the resurgent Sunshine Ridge, the very fast Capt. Joe Blow, and recent local winner Steady Demand.

Sunshine Ridge, trained by John Sadler, had fallen on hard times. The 4-year-old clipped heels and fell at Del Mar in August 2007 and wasn't seen again for 10 months. When he did resurface, at Golden Gate this June, he was no factor in his comeback race. But he dropped to the $25,000 claiming level at Del Mar Aug. 3 and bounced back with a big win. He stepped up to the $32,000 level there Aug. 23 and was a fine second, beaten just a head. Sadler claimed him for $62,500 in June 2007 and it's a great sign that after dropping in price he now shows up without a claiming tag attached. Sunshine Ridge won his only previous start here, back in 2006 as a 2-year-old, but seems back on track, and lands top rider Martin Pedroza.

Capt. Joe Blow can flat sizzle. After finishing third for $40,000 at Hollywood on July 4 he went to Del Mar, opened up early, and just kept going to beat $40,000 claimers Aug. 10. He moved up to the $50,000 level there Aug. 31 but used up too much fuel too soon, opening a 10-length lead. It was no surprise that after going so fast he faltered to finish fourth. He drops for trainer Eric Kruljac and will be ridden by Clinton Potts. Capt. Joe Blow was second in his only previous local try.

Steady Demand, trained by Paula Capestro, was knocking on the door all summer before busting through with a big win against California-bred optional claimers here Sept. 11. That run shows he's sharp and likes this place and he may be ready to take on open foes. Pedro Arambula rides.

Another who merits respect is Band of Thunder. A son of Point Given, he has won 7 of 23 starts, so he knows where the wire is. He chased the pace and stayed on to be fourth behind Capt. Joe Blow at Del Mar on Aug. 10. He was claimed that day for $40,000 by trainer Mike Mitchell, who is a strong 30 percent first off a claim, and who is 5 for his first 12 (42 percent) here this meet.

The Southern California racing scene switches to Oak Tree at Santa Anita beginning Wednesday, highlighted by the two-day Breeders' Cup festival Oct. 24-25.