03/09/2010 12:00AM

Loup Breton best at Big Cap distance

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NEW YORK - There is a very strong national stakes schedule Saturday with multiple-stakes cards at Aqueduct, Oaklawn Park, and Gulfstream Park. But despite all of that, there is no question that Santa Anita commands center stage Saturday, and that is because it is Big Cap Day.

The Grade 1, $750,000 Santa Anita Handicap heads a card that also includes two other Grade 1, $250,000 stakes, the Santa Anita Oaks and the Frank E. Kilroe Mile Handicap, as well as the Grade 3, $150,000 Sham Stakes, which was rescheduled after being rained out last Saturday.

Unfortunately, like last Saturday, rain is in the forecast for Santa Anita, which is an unsettling proposition considering the inability of the track's synthetic surface to handle any sort of meaningful precipitation. It would indeed be ironic if the biggest day of the Santa Anita meeting was lost to yet another rainout just days after track owner Frank Stronach surprised almost everyone by announcing that there would be no change in the racing surface after the meet is over. But of course, we all strongly hope Saturday's Santa Anita card will be completed without incident.

Santa Anita Handicap

One of the main storylines in the run up to the Big Cap involved the mare St Trinians facing males in this race instead of remaining against members of her own sex in next week's Santa Margarita Handicap because her connections feel this is the easier spot. It's hard to argue with that. Zenyatta is scheduled to make the Santa Margarita her first start since beating males in the Breeders' Cup Classic, and there is no one in Zenyatta's league in the Big Cap. But just because she is in the easier spot, it doesn't mean that St Trinians, who beat Breeders' Cup Ladies Classic winner Life Is Sweet last time out in the Santa Maria Handicap to remain undefeated in this country, has to win. This will still be her toughest U.S. test to date, and she probably won't offer any betting value.

The other aspect to this race that seems noteworthy is how shaky the form is at the Big Cap's 10 furlongs. This race might simply be too far for Pick Six, Neko Bay, Dakota Phone, and Misremembered. Mast Track did upset the 2008 Hollywood Gold Cup going 1 1/4 miles, but he got a huge base on balls when allowed to walk on the early lead. And while Eagle Poise, Pool Play, Tiger's Rock, and Delightful Kiss have all run well at longer distances, those efforts were in much, much easier races than this.

With this in mind, a pair of turf specialists - Loup Breton and Marsh Side - could be dangerous in this race. Both have run well at this distance in the past against good company on the grass. I will go with Loup Breton, who looks to be the sharper of the two at the moment.

Loup Breton is just a neck away from being 3 for 3 in the U.S., and ran particularly well winning the Grade 2 San Marcos at this distance on turf most recently. Granted, the field Loup Breton beat wasn't especially tough, but he produced a strong final quarter-mile in 22.83 seconds to get the job done, which is impressive. It also helps that trainer Julio Canani, who is having a typically fine meet, has excellent numbers moving horses from turf to synthetic surfaces.

Frank E. Kilroe Mile Handicap

During the National Handicapping Championship in Las Vegas in late January, I had the pleasure of spending a couple of days playing horses next to Jon Lindo. Jon, who is, among other things, the Western advertising representative for this paper, has an outstanding opinion. On the last day of the NHC, Jon talked up a horse at Santa Anita named Red Sun. He warned me that Red Sun was going to be odds-on in this entry-level allowance race, but he also told me that the California-bred absolutely could not lose because he was a top-notch stakes horse who just hasn't had the chance yet to run in a stakes race.

Well, I don't know if Jon likes Red Sun right back in this spot, but he impressed me so much winning that allowance race, I know I like him.

I concede that Red Sun is taking a huge leap in class Saturday, but no one in this turf race is perfect. The horses coming out of the Citation - Fluke, Ever a Friend, and Blue Chagall - haven't run in more than three months. Tuscan Evening and Proviso can run, but are also mares against males. Awesome Gem is better on dirt or synthetic than he is on turf. And when Battle of Hastings was good last year, it was against straight 3-year-olds.

Red Sun's most recent score, meanwhile, was much more impressive visually than it looks on paper. Even though he led from early on, he showed an eye-catching burst of late acceleration. Red Sun is only going to be more effective at this longer distance, and he can also control this race from the start.

Gotham Stakes

Awesome Act sped home his final quarter-mile in 22.45 when he came over from England to finish a close fourth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf last fall. That alone makes him a contender here. Now, he comes over from England to make his first start on dirt. And the funny thing is, this might be the surface he has been wanting all along. At least that's what I think, and a big reason why I'm going with Awesome Act here.

Although Awesome Act ran well in all but one of his turf starts and had a trouble comment in the one he didn't, he really doesn't have much turf in his immediate pedigree. Both his sire and dam never ran on turf, and his younger half-brother didn't hit the board in his two attempts on grass. It's also intriguing that even after two solid seconds last summer at Newmarket to begin his career, he was tried on Polytrack at Kempton, suggesting his connections might have recognized back then that Awesome Act is really dirt meant.