02/24/2009 12:00AM

High hopes for Midships

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ARCADIA, Calif. - In his first start of 2008, Midships ran so well in a handicap race at Sandown Park in Great Britain that he beat Conduit. By the end of the year, Conduit had won the Breeders' Cup Turf and, with it, the Eclipse Award as champion male turf horse.

Midships did not get to that rarefied land. He largely competed in handicap races the rest of the year, winning just once. But after being brought to this country at the end of the year, he hinted at greater things to come by finishing third, behind the accomplished Court Vision and Cowboy Cal, in the Hollywood Derby.

On Thursday at Santa Anita, Midships embarks on his 2009 campaign, one his current trainer, Bobby Frankel, thinks could turn out quite special. "I'm sorry I didn't put him in the Santa Anita Handicap," Frankel said Tuesday morning. He was dead serious.

"He's a nice horse," Frankel said. "He got a little sick after the Hollywood Derby, but he's ready to go now."

Midships isn't meeting any Big Cap-quality horses in Thursday's featured seventh race. He faces six rivals in the optional claiming race, to be run at 1 1/8 miles on turf for a purse of $56,000.

Frankel said that while Midships was kept out of group stakes races in England last year, he was in tough company.

"If you read into the form, he was running in good races," Frankel said. "He beat Conduit, and then Conduit came back and beat him."

Even though Frankel has only had Midships in his care for four months, he is quite familiar with the colt, having trained both his sire, Mizzen Mast, and dam, Interim. "She was a tiny horse," Frankel said. "He's not. He's a strong horse."

Among those challenging Midships are Slam Dunk, who was third in a similar optional claiming race on the main track last time out, and Patch of Blue, who finished furiously for third going a mile on turf in his first start in 16 months on Jan. 18.

Earlier in the day, in the fourth race, the promising colt Advice makes his 3-year-old debut in a first-level allowance race at 1 1/16 miles. Advice crossed the wire second in the Arlington-Washington Futurity last fall, but has not raced since a poor try in the Breeders' Futurity at Keeneland on Oct. 4.

"He's trained very well," said Michael McCarthy, the Santa Anita-based assistant to trainer Todd Pletcher. "He probably could have used another work, but it's time to get going. It looks like there's a fair amount of speed in the race, which should help him."