Updated on 09/17/2011 8:37PM

Kirkendahl fast - can he last?

Benoit & Associates
Kirkendahl, winning his debut Nov. 13, will attempt to stretch out his speed to a mile for Saturday's San Rafael.

ARCADIA, Calif. - There will be other, more significant at Santa Anita. After all, the mile race for 3-year-olds has been repositioned from early March, and this year the San Rafael will be run right smack in the middle of January.

It is a long way from the ultimate jackpot, but not too soon to plot getting there. Jockey Gary Stevens, a three-time Derby winner, appreciates the nuances of developing 3-year-olds through the winter.

"From January 1st to the first Saturday in May, if one thing goes wrong, your odds of getting the big prize start getting higher and higher," he said.

It helps to have the right horse. Stevens's candidate is Spanish Chestnut, one of six entrants in the $150,000 San Rafael, which goes as race 4. Favoritism is wide open, because though two-time stakes winner Texcess entered, trainer Paul Aguirre said Friday he plans to run the colt Saturday at Golden Gate instead.

The remaining San Rafael entrants seek their first important win. Kirkendahl is the fastest horse in the race but is untested beyond a sprint, while Chips Are Down's last start was an allowance win on Dec. 3. Dover Dere and Iced Out also entered.

Spanish Chestnut is trained by Patrick Biancone, has won 2 of 4, and is coming off a front-running win in a first-condition route. Stevens haDhis hands full early.

"He threw his head going into the first turn, but even though he was pulling, it was a comfortable pull," he said. "By the seven-eighths pole, I had him . . . he was in my hands."

Spanish Chestnut led throughout, and won by three lengths while earning an 88 Beyer Speed Figure. Stevens expects Spanish Chestnut's mannerisms to improve Saturday.

"He'll be kinder earlier, but he's still going to be aggressive," Stevens said. "That's just his nature. He's a very fast horse, and if someone's in front of me, we're probably going too fast."

With the sprinter Kirkendahl in the field, it is not difficult to envision a duel. Kirkendahl won his debut Nov. 13, then improved second time out to win a fast allowance that earned a 99 Beyer, tops in the field. A son of Menifee owned and bred by country music star Toby Keith, Kirkendahl is trained by Ted H. West and his father, Ted West. Kirkendahl will use his speed.

"If he was in front sprinting, he ought to be right there running long," West said. "We're going to let him run his race."

The one-mile San Rafael is frequently won by sprinters, and Kirkendahl is the fastest in the field.

As for Texcess, his aim always was the Golden Gate Derby, though the threat of rain gave Aguirre reason to reconsider.

"I prefer to give him an easy race, but I also prefer not to run on an off track," he said, while citing the distance of the San Rafael as another reason to ship out. "At a mile, some of those sprinters stretching out just freak, and run away from the field."