02/09/2009 12:00AM

If not Well Armed, then Tiago in San Antonio


LEXINGTON, Ky. - Which version of Well Armed is going to show up in the Grade 2, $200,000 San Antonio Handicap at Santa Anita on Sunday?

If it's the one who won this race last year, along with the Grade 2 San Diego Handicap and the Grade 1 Goodwood, he would be a prime contender. But the concern is that Well Armed finished ninth as the 6-5 favorite in the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile two races ago, then finished fourth as the 3-2 favorite in the San Pasqual Handicap last time, in his return from a 2 1/2-month layoff. That version of Well Armed probably would continue to burn money with another disappointing performance.

If Well Armed manages to run one of his better races he'll probably enjoy a great trip on the lead, since he has more natural early speed than any of his rivals. If early speed is sticking, the combination of a favorable pace scenario and an advantageous track bias would make him very dangerous. Pay attention to the results of the second race at Santa Anita on Sunday, a 1 1/16-mile route, and the sixth race, at the same 1 1/8-mile distance of the San Antonio, to see how the horses with early speed do in the two route races that will be run prior to the San Antonio.

For now, based on the recent track bias trends in route races at Santa Anita, I'll operate on the assumption that a speed bias probably won't be the key handicapping factor in this race. Under that scenario, I'll give the call to Tiago as my top pick. He ran a huge race when he finished third, 2 1/2 lengths behind Raven's Pass and a neck ahead of Curlin, in the Breeders' Cup Classic. His 59.40-second work at Hollywood five days ago suggests that he should be set to run a good race in his first start since the Breeders' Cup.

I'll make Well Armed my second selection.

Champs Elysees is an intriguing contender. He ran against Grade 1 company in each of his last six races, with wins in the Northern Dancer, and the Hollywood Turf Cup. Although 19 of his 21 races have been on the grass, he likes Santa Anita's synthetic surface, as evidenced by his third in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Handicap and an eighth-place finish in the Breeders' Cup Classic, just 2 3/4 lengths behind Tiago. The primary concern is that he does his best running at distances longer than 1o1/8 miles. So I'll pick him third.

Ferneley has raced on turf exclusively. He was a close second in the Grade 2 San Gabriel two races ago, then was a close third in the Grade 2 San Marcos. He has trained well on Santa Anita's main track, and can earn a spot in the exotics if he is able to match his turf form on the Pro-Ride surface.

Annabill can grass at Gulfstream

Gulfstream also has a turf stakes carded on Sunday. A field of nine Florida-bred fillies and mares are scheduled to compete at a mile in the $75,000 Marion County.

Annabill shows just four turf starts from 40 career races, but her form on that surface is about as good as her form on dirt. That's a good thing, because her main-track races against open stakes company are good enough to give her an edge over the opponents she'll see in this Florida-bred field. She might not take as much betting support as she deserves since many handicappers are likely to prefer a grass specialist.

Julia Tuttle ran an improved race last time when she dueled most of the way, tired, and finished fourth as a 27-1 longshot in the Sunshine Millions Filly and Mare Turf. She'll contend if she runs as well today, and she should appreciate cutting back from 1 1/8 miles to a mile.

Scolara finished fourth in the Grade 3 Valley View at Keeneland, and third in the Grade 2 Mrs. Revere at Churchill last year. She also ran well when she finished second in a blanket finish in the Pago Hop at Fair Grounds. The concern is that she didn't show nearly as much tactical speed in her last four races as she did in some of her earlier races. She'll need to make an earlier move into striking position to maximize her chances at this distance as she returns from a two-month layoff.