09/04/2008 11:00PM

Hard to look beyond Bai and Bai


POMONA, Calif. - The repositioning of the fall California Cup program during the Oak Tree meet at Santa Anita - the $1.3 million series was moved from early November to early October - directly impacts the stakes schedule at the Los Angeles County Fair.

The good news for fillies and mares aiming to the $100,000 Las Madrinas Handicap on Sept. 21 at Fairplex Park is that 2007 winner Bai and Bai will not defend her title. But it is bad news for those hoping the $65,000 E.B. Johnston Stakes on Sunday at Fairplex would be an easy spot.

It is not. Bai and Bai returns from a six-month layoff in the Johnston, and if trainer Craig Dollase is right about how well the 5-year-old mare has been working, she will be tough to beat in the 1 1/16-mile race.

"She has trained really well; this looks like a good spot for her," Dollase said. "It will be our little stepping-stone to the Cal Cup."

Bai and Bai will race only once at Fairplex; her goal is the $150,000 California Cup Matron. The timing of the Johnston, Las Madrinas, and Cal Cup on Oct. 5 simplified Bai and Bai's fall campaign. She could not realistically run in all three.

"They moved the Cal Cup, so we won't be able to defend our title in the Las Madrinas," Dollase said.

Owned by the Robert and Beverly Lewis Trust, Bai and Bai has won 9 of 23 races and $631,868. Aaron Gryder rides Bai and Bai, the class of the field.

Seven fillies and mares entered the Johnston, which is the second stakes on a card that includes $65,000 Foothill Stakes (race 5) for 3-year-old sprinters.

In the unlikely event Bai and Bai needs a prep race - Dollase suggested she does not - the Johnston is wide open. The rest of the field consists of front-runners Wickednwackyingrid and Chocolate Lava, closer Dona Amelia, and three longshots - Purrfectly Fitting, Lochinvar's Gold, and Petite Cherie.

All-time leading Fairplex rider Martin Pedroza, who won the first Thoroughbred race at the fair on Friday for the 3,000th of his career, rides Wickednwackyingrid. She could be compromised by speedster Chocolate Lava, ridden by Tyler Baze.

Earlier on the card, Winsome Charm, trained by Jeff Mullins, is favored in the 6 1/2-furlong Foothill. He dueled on the pace before tiring last out in the Grade 1 Bing Crosby Handicap; the Foothill represents a huge class drop.