04/14/2010 12:00AM

Looking east with a few good fillies

Email

ARCADIA, Calif. - As many as four 3-year-old fillies based in Southern California, all stakes winners this year, may start in the Kentucky Oaks at Churchill Downs on April 30.

Blind Luck, who won the Grade 1 Las Virgenes Stakes in February, as well as Crisp (Grade 1 Santa Anita Oaks), Evening Jewel (Grade 1 Ashland Stakes at Keeneland), and Harissa (Sunland Park Oaks) are being considered.

Trainer Jim Cassidy said that Evening Jewel will have a workout this weekend at Santa Anita, which will finalize whether the filly is sent to Churchill Downs or stays in Southern California for the $100,000 Senorita Stakes on turf at Hollywood Park on May 2.

"She's picked her head up in the last few days," Cassidy said. "She's eating better and her blood count was really good."

Cassidy said, "Right now, I'm better than 50-50" for the Kentucky Oaks.

Evening Jewel was second by a nose to Blind Luck in the Las Virgenes Stakes. She won the Ashland Stakes by a neck after leading by a length in early stretch.

Harissa is not a certain starter in the Kentucky Oaks, trainer David Hofmans said. She has earned $6,000 in graded stakes, for finishing fourth behind Crisp in the Grade 3 Santa Ysabel Stakes in January, and Hofmans fears that will be insufficient to gain a spot in the Oaks, which is limited to 14 starters.

"They expect a full field," he said.

Muhannak needs extra effort

The stable project this year for trainer Ben Cecil has been Muhannak, the winner of the Breeders' Cup Marathon at Santa Anita in October 2008.

In recent months, Muhannak has been a loafer, doing very little in his races. He was fifth in the BC Marathon last November and last of eighth in his only start this year, the Grade 2 San Marcos Stakes over 1o1/4 miles on turf here in January.

The last two months have been spent trying to coax the 6-year-old gelding into better performances. Whether the effort has worked or not will be seen in Sunday's $150,000 San Juan Capistrano Handicap over about 1 3/4 miles on turf.

"We've been trying some different things with him," Cecil said, noting that exercise rider Gary Tinsley "has been getting on him, and he's been getting more out of him. He's more focused on what he's supposed to be doing."

A winner of 7 of 24 starts and $437,371 for owner Richard Pegum, Muhannak is winless in nine starts since the 2008 BC Dirt Marathon. "That's ancient history," Cecil said.

Last year, Muhannak failed to finish in the first three in seven starts, ranging from a 10th in the $6 million Dubai World Cup in Dubai, to fifth- and seventh-place finishes in group stakes in England, to the disappointment in the BC Marathon last November.

In the San Marcos, Muhannak was never a factor.

"He broke slow and when he had nothing around him, he galloped around the track," Cecil said.

The San Juan Capistrano is led by Bourbon Bay, the winner of the San Luis Rey and San Luis Obispo handicaps this year. Cecil thinks the race is worth a shot for Muhannak.

"It's a fairly weak division," he said.

Tuscan Evening looks dominant

Tuscan Evening is such a standout in Saturday's $150,000 Santa Barbara Handicap for fillies and mares over 1 1/4 miles on turf that track officials have moved the race out of the pick six and placed it as the fourth race on a 10-race program.

Tuscan Evening has already won three stakes at the meeting, including the Grade 2 Santa Ana Handicap over 1 1/8 miles on turf here on March 21. The Santa Barbara Handicap will be her first start over 1 1/4 miles. Her competition includes Cat by the Tale, Eclair de Lune, General Consensus, Medaglia d'Amour, and Restless Soul.

The Usual Q.T. getting back to work

The Usual Q.T., who finished fourth in the $5 million Dubai Duty Free in the Middle East on March 27, will resume training next week with a possible return in the Grade 1 Shoemaker Mile at Hollywood Park on May 31, Cassidy said.

The winner of four consecutive stakes from October through December last year, The Usual Q.T. has surprised Cassidy with his attitude in recent days.

"You'd think he'd be whipped from the trip, but he didn't show it," Cassidy said.

Rain disrupts training

Approximately 1 1/2 inches of rain fell at Santa Anita late Sunday and early Monday, leading to the cancellation of training on the synthetic main track on Monday morning.

Training resumed on the synthetic main track on Tuesday.

After the races on Sunday, track maintenance crews began covering an area of the synthetic main track near the finish line with plastic material. The area near the finish line drained poorly earlier this year when the track lost five days of racing because of insufficient drainage on the main track.

Santa Anita's track superintendent, Richard Tedesco, said the track has gotten 21 1/2 inches of rain this year.