Updated on 09/16/2011 6:55AM

If the cap fits . . .


ARCADIA, Calif. - When the 14 jockeys riding in Saturday's $1 million Santa Anita Handicap greet their mounts in the walking ring, many will think they are about to climb aboard the winner.

In a race that lacks a clear favorite or a nationally prominent horse, it is hard to argue with their optimism.

The richest race run at Santa Anita, the Big Cap has attracted a well-matched field that will provide bettors with a difficult puzzle to solve.

Few of the starters can be thrown out at a glance.

For every logical contender, such as Futural and Euchre, there are longshots such as Kudos, Freedom Crest, and Irisheyesareflying who could be dangerous.

Last year, Tiznow won the Big Cap en route to an Eclipse Award as the nation's top older horse, but no horse in Saturday's field can be considered of that caliber.

"It will be an interesting race," said trainer Richard Mandella, who starts Kudos and Cagney. "Going in you say it's not a great one. But you don't know. Two years later, you look back and say, 'Geez, look who ran in that race.' "

In the last month, top older horses Lido Palace, Mizzen Mast, and Redattore were withdrawn from consideration. Any of them would have gone favored.

Without them, the Big Cap, run over 1 1/4 miles, will become a milestone victory for one of the starters. None has won a million-dollar race and none has won a Grade 1 in this country.

Futural has come the closest to a Grade 1 win. A 6-year-old, Futural finished first in the Grade 1 Hollywood Gold Cup last July, but was disqualified and placed third for causing interference in the stretch.

"With Mizzen Mast out, it helps everyone," said his trainer, Craig Dollase.

Futural is a stalker who could get an ideal trip under jockey Chris McCarron, winner of two of the last three Big Caps.

Futural is expected to track pacesetters Giant Gentleman and Sky Jack, who should be closely followed by Western Pride.

"There's plenty of speed in front of us," Dollase said. "I'd like to have had another prep in him."

The entry of Euchre and Milwaukee Brew is likely to go favored, but may be as high as 3-1. Neither have won over 1 1/4 miles.

Euchre finished second to Redattore in the San Antonio Handicap on Feb. 3, losing by a half-length. He is winless in three starts since returning from a break after a win in the Cornhusker Handicap at Prairie Meadows last July.

"He's improving a little with each race," said Garrett Gomez, who will ride Euchre. "I think there will be plenty of pace."

Milwaukee Brew is winless in eight starts dating back to the 2000 Ohio Derby and would be a longshot if he were not part of an entry.

Futural will be well backed as will Fancy As, a seven-time stakes winner in Canada last year who was third in the San Fernando Stakes and Strub Stakes at this meeting. Trained by Bob Baffert, Fancy As will add blinkers.

"I don't know what to expect with the blinkers on him," jockey Gary Stevens said. "It's a wide-open race, that's the way it should be."

Fancy As was well beaten by Mizzen Mast in the Strub Stakes, but Stevens said that was because of an unlucky trip.

"I got really shuffled back into the first turn," Stevens said. "I was a lot farther back then I wanted to be. He showed a lot of courage through the stretch."

While Stevens is on a proven dirt horse, jockey Mike Smith will ride Cagney, who was third in the San Marcos Stakes on turf on Jan. 20. The Big Cap is Cagney's first start on dirt in the U.S.

"I think he'll be more aggressive off that race," Smith said of the San Marcos. "He's working that way, training that way."

Cagney will be around 15-1, and is typical of the sort of horses starting on Saturday. In past years, such horses would not have be given a strong chance to win against fields that included Free House, General Challenge, and Tiznow.

This year is different. The Big Cap could belong to anyone.