02/23/2009 12:00AM

Long-absent trainer's filly ready to win


ARCADIA, Calif. - After training in Southern California for 15 years, Michael Mollica's name disappeared from the program in late 2000.

"I never left racing," he said.

Does anyone? Besides, good memories were fresh for Mollica, who won graded stakes with the precocious Valid Wager in 1994 and 1995 and was among the first trainers employed by prominent owner Robert Lewis.

When business slowed, Mollica swapped his training career for a position as racing manager for SJB Stables, owned by Connecticut developer Steve Barbarino. Mollica kept his home in California, and traveled frequently to Canada, New York, and Florida to manage the SJB outfit.

"We had a little string at Woodbine," Mollica explained. "[Barbarino] said, 'Why don't you take these horses to California?' "

He hadn't raced here in 10 years. It did not take Mollica long to find a training center to base his operation.

"I don't live far from San Luis Rey, and I saw where Pete Miller was doing really well out of there," he said.

Five SJB horses shipped to San Luis Rey, Mollica picked up another eight from the Hartley/De Renzo stable, and suddenly he was back in the training game. Wednesday at Santa Anita, Mollica will be favored to win his first race since Madame Roar on June 4, 2000.

Mollica starts SJB-owned Real Fancy Runner in race 7, a first-level allowance sprint for 3-year-old turf fillies. The race is central to bettors chasing a pick-six pool with a $169,420 carryover.

After a third-place finish three weeks ago in the Grade 3 La Habra Stakes, Mollica is bullish on Real Fancy Runner's chances.

"She's an itty bitty filly," Mollica said. "She's got plenty of speed, but we've been teaching her to rate. She's been rating beautifully, and she'll finish for you."

Real Fancy Runner has won 1 of 6, and off her two-length loss in the La Habra she should be favored under Joe Talamo. Her rivals include sharp recent maiden winner Air Fair, front-runner Doughnut, and European import Starlarks.

Pick-six bettors should also consider singling Miss Cherry in race 8. Miss Cherry broke slowly first out, made a big middle move, and finished seventh. Second time out with a clean break, she can win the race for $25,000 maiden claimers.