02/16/2006 1:00AM

Jet West needs to fire

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Horsephotos
Jet West (left) loses a neck decision to Major Success in the Palos Verdes. Surf Cat was headed for the Malibu before an injury sidelined him.

ARCADIA, Calif. - Jet West was claimed for $62,500 last August and has collected $193,932 in five starts for owner Bruce Hochman and trainer Ted H. West. Along the way, Jet West has won the California Cup Sprint and placed in two graded stakes. If the 5-year-old horse is to add to his already lucrative run in Saturday's $150,000 , he will need the best race of his career.

The Grade 2 San Carlos, run at seven furlongs, has drawn a strong field of eight, including Congrats, Imperialism, Major Success, and Surf Cat.

Jet West finished a neck behind Major Success in the Grade 2 at six furlongs here on Jan. 21. Jet West chased a quick pace and rallied from fourth. The seven-furlong distance of the San Carlos will be a test for Jet West, but is not a concern to his trainer.

"He hasn't given us any indication that it will be a problem," West said. "I like a closer going seven more than a speed horse going seven."

Jet West has evolved in recent starts. Last fall, he raced on or near the lead, but has been more of a closer in recent starts. His success has been a pleasant surprise for Hochman and West, who watched Jet West finish seventh in the race from which he was claimed.

"When I claimed him at Del Mar I wasn't very happy with the way he ran," West said. "He wasn't very sound. We weren't too enthusiastic. We thought we might have to drop him [in class]."

After a month of training at Fairplex Park, Jet West led throughout in an optional claimer for statebreds over that track, winning by 2 1/2 lengths. He has earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 100 or higher in each of his last five starts.

High speed figures have been commonplace for Major Success, and Surf Cat as well.

Major Success, 5, has won his last three starts, always racing near the front. Trained by Bobby Frankel, he won the Palos Verdes last out, which was his stakes debut.

Surf Cat was one of the top 3-year-olds in California last year. Trained by Bruce Headley, Surf Cat won the Grade 2 Swaps Breeders' Cup Handicap at Hollywood Park last summer. He won an allowance race here in October and was on course for the Malibu Stakes in December when he injured a foot in his stall.

"He jumped on his quarter," Headley said. "It took five weeks to close the wound. I've been pointing him for this race."

Headley has a strong record with horses coming off layoffs, and insists that Surf Cat's recent works have gotten him ready.

"A run will help him, but he went a good 1:24," Headley said, referring to a seven-furlong work on Feb. 5. "He's a versatile horse. We're starting off at seven-eighths, and that's a tough sprint."

Congrats and Imperialism are returning from layoffs.

Congrats has not started since finishing eighth in the Pacific Classic at Del Mar in August. Second in the 2005 Santa Anita Handicap, Congrats is winless in six starts since the San Pasqual Handicap in January 2005.

Imperialism, who ran third in the 2004 Kentucky Derby, has not raced since finishing 10th in the Grade 1 Cigar Mile at Aqueduct in November. Trained by Kristin Mulhall, Imperialism won the seven-furlong Pat O'Brien Handicap last August at Del Mar, which was his first start in more than five months.

Mulhall hopes the current layoff leaves Imperialism ready for a start. "He's pretty fit, and he loves this track," she said.

Because Imperialism is best as a closer, Mulhall said that he does not have to be 100 percent ready to win. He can track the leaders and unleash a half-mile run to reach contention.

"He can cheat a little bit," she said.

Even so, Imperialism will have little margin for error in so strong a field.