02/25/2009 1:00AM

Matto Mondo to try Big Cap

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Benoit & Associates
Matto Mondo, winner of the off-the-turf Thunder Road Handicap, will try to stretch his speed 1 1/4 miles in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Handicap on March 7.

ARCADIA, Calif. - The best horse in California will run in the richest race of the winter, but the outstanding miler Matto Mondo is no cinch March 7 in the $1 million Santa Anita Handicap.

Trainer Richard Mandella confirmed Tuesday that Matto Mondo will forsake the Grade 1 Frank Kilroe at a mile on turf, and instead stretch his speed 1 1/4 miles in the Big Cap. Although the distance is three-sixteenths farther than the Group 1 race that Matto Mondo won in Chile, at least the Big Cap will be run on familiar footing.

Matto Mondo scored an impressive 3 1/4-length victory Feb. 7 in the off-the-turf Grade 3 Thunder Road Handicap, running a mile on Pro-Ride in a meet-best 1:34.61 while earning the top two-turn Beyer Speed Figure (103) of the season.

"I don't think he could have looked any better," Mandella said, while recognizing that 1 1/4 miles is unproven territory. "If he's not going to do it now, he never will."

Mandella considered the $300,000 Kilroe for Matto Mondo, whose 6-for-11 career includes four wins at the Kilroe distance of one mile.

"The Kilroe is a damn good race, and you hate to give up what you know you can do," Mandella said. "We're reaching out a little bit, but it is the Santa Anita Handicap."

Mike Smith rode Matto Mondo to victory his last two starts, but he is committed to Tiago, the probable Big Cap favorite. Rafael Bejarano, who won the Big Cap last year with Heatseeker, picks up the mount on Matto Mondo.

The possibility of Matto Mondo staying 1 1/4 miles became easier when trainer Ron Ellis confirmed that the undefeated Rail Trip would not run in the Big Cap. Rail Trip won a third-level allowance route Feb. 20 racing gate to wire, and the 4-for-4 gelding would have kept the pace honest.

"I don't want to send him a mile and a quarter against top horses yet," Ellis said, adding that owners Mace and Samantha Siegel "want to take a conservative approach." Rail Trip will be nominated to the $70,000 Santana Mile on April 4.

With Rail Trip out and potential lone front-runner Matto Mondo in, trainer Bobby Frankel may enter the 2008 Hollywood Gold Cup winner, Mast Track, "to make sure there is pace in there for the other two."

Frankel plans to start Champs Elysees and Zambezi Sun in the Big Cap. Frankel said Champs Elysees "is a go" and Zambezi Sun "will run back if he trains good this week."

Zambezi Sun finished sixth as the odds-on favorite Sunday in the Grade 2 San Luis Obispo Handicap, which was his first start in more than four months.

Light work for The Pamplemousse

The Pamplemousse did not need much Tuesday, and after a three-furlong work in 35.60 seconds under jockey Alex Solis, trainer Julio Canani stated simply, "Perfect, done." The Pamplemousse galloped out a half-mile in 48.20, and is expected to set the pace Saturday in the Grade 3 Sham Stakes, his first start since racing wire to wire Jan. 17 in the Grade 3 San Rafael Stakes at one mile.

Co-owners Alex Solis II, Chuck Winner, and Bill Strauss watched The Pamplemousse's work, after which Canani said, "He's getting more mature now. He's a natural."

The Pamplemousse will stretch to 1 1/8 miles in the Sham against Gulfstream Park allowance winner Take the Points and sharp Santa Anita maiden winner Mr. Hot Stuff. Mr. Hot Stuff worked a half-mile Tuesday in 47.20 seconds. Mark S the Cooler and Ventana also are expected.

New Bay to try going long in San Felipe

Allowance sprint winner New Bay will stretch out when he runs in the 1 1/16-mile San Felipe Stakes, which also is the target for top-ranked California 3-year-old Pioneerof the Nile. Trainer Richard Mandella recognizes the challenge facing New Bay.

"I wish I had a little easier place to go, but it's time, and he's doing great," Mandella said.

New Bay will have a new jockey for the March 14 San Felipe, as his regular rider, Rafael Bejarano, will be at Fair Grounds that day to ride Papa Clem in the Louisiana Derby.

Stardom Bound solid in work

Stardom Bound stayed on target for the Santa Anita Oaks on March 7 with a solid five-furlong workout Monday.

"She went really good . . . really good," trainer Bobby Frankel said. Stardom Bound was timed in 1:00, and Frankel said she ran her final eighth in 11.40 seconds "without being asked."

The workout was the first for Stardom Bound since a sharp comeback win Feb. 7 in the Grade 1 Las Virgenes. Stardom Bound will have her final pre-Oaks workout on Sunday.

Delahoussaye, Pincay co-captains for charity

Hall of Fame jockeys Eddie Delahoussaye and Laffit Pincay are the honorary captains Thursday for the 42nd annual Holy Angels-Santa Anita jockeys charity basketball game at La Salle High School in Pasadena.

Delahoussaye and Pincay will sign autographs for an hour before the 7 p.m. tipoff. Admission is $5. Proceeds benefit the Holy Angels athletic department.