02/25/2009 12:00AM

Meet England's Big Cap hope

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ARCADIA, Calif. - The $1 million Santa Anita Handicap has largely developed in recent years into a seven-figure race for locals, save for the occasional invader from the East Coast.

But this year's running on Marcho7 will be different. Court Vision and Einstein are intriguing contenders from Florida, and they will not have come the farthest.

On Wednesday, Dansant, who has won five stakes in England in the last 18 months, left Great Britain for California.

The 5-year-old horse is the first international shipper for the Santa Anita Handicap since the English invader Jorrocks finished last of 12 behind winner Tiznow in 2001. Jorrocks stayed in California, but Dansant will return to England.

Dansant has won 2 of his last 3 starts, but trainer Gerard Butler knows he is taking a chance in the Santa Anita Handicap, which is run at 1 1/4 miles.

"We think he'll give a good account of himself," Butler said in a telephone interview Wednesday. "He's the leading [synthetic track] performer here in England. Where that puts him with American horses, we'll find out. He'll enjoy the strong pace that we're predicting for him.

"If he travels well and takes to the environment well, we're in a strong position."

Owned by Barbara Keller, Dansant has won 7 of 19 starts and $277,069. On England's synthetic tracks, he has won 5 of 8 starts, including five stakes since November 2007 at distances ranging from 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 miles. "The distance is no problem," Butler said.

Dansant's preparations for the Big Cap have been slightly interrupted. He was scheduled to run in early February at Wolverhampton, England, but the card was canceled because of poor weather. A week later, Dansant finished second in a minor stakes going 1 1/4 miles at Lingfield, England, a loss that Butler dismissed because of a wide trip and the absence of his regular jockey, Eddie Ahern.

"It wasn't the end of the world," Butler said of the loss.

Butler said that Dansant worked 1o1/4 miles in Newmarket, England, on Saturday, a drill that was not timed and was seen as a confidence booster. "It was more of a psychological thing," Butler said.

Dansant did not have a rider for the Big Cap as of Wednesday, though Butler said he was aiming to use an American-based rider with experience over the track.

Butler is counting on Dansant's ability as a stayer to give him an edge.

"I don't know how many are barking for a mile and a quarter," he said of the competition. "They're all pretty strong guys."

Butler, 42, has raced occasionally in the United States in recent years. He saddled Bayeux to a victory in the Grade 3 River City Handicap at Churchill Downs in 2006, and Jack Sullivan to a 12th in the Breeders' Cup Classic at Belmont Park in 2005. Aside from major races in England, such as the Group 1 Coral Eclipse Stakes in 1999, Butler has won major stakes in France and Dubai.

Dansant will be his first starter in California.

The Big Cap will have a large field. As of Wednesday, 16 of the 26 nominated horses were considered candidates - Blue Exit, Champs Elysees, Colonel John, Court Vision, Cowboy Cal, Dansant, Einstein, Magnum, Mast Track, Matto Mondo, Monba, Nownownow, Slew's Tiznow, Tiago, Victory Pete, and Zambezi Sun.

Mast Track, the winner of the 2008 Hollywood Gold Cup, and Nownownow, who won the San Fernando Stakes last month, may start in the Grade 1 Frank Kilroe Mile on turf on March 7, their trainers said on Wednesday.

Zambezi Sun finished sixth as the 9-10 favorite in the Grade 2 San Luis Obispo Handicap last Sunday, but trainer Bobby Frankel said the 5-year-old will start in the Big Cap anyway. Zambezi Sun was rank for part of the San Luis Obispo, jockey Garrett Gomez said.

Frankel said he would make equipment changes to avoid a repeat. "He won't do it next time," Frankel said.

If the Big Cap draws more than the allotted 14 entrants, weight assignments, which will be released on Saturday, are the first tiebreaker.

Smart Bid earns start in Sham

With a two-race winning streak, Smart Bid has earned his way into Saturday's $200,000 Sham Stakes for 3-year-olds.

"It's time to find out what kind of horse he is," trainer Graham Motion said.

Smart Bid won a maiden race at Philadelphia Park in December and his California debut in an optional claimer at a mile on turf on Jan. 19. The Grade 3 Sham Stakes will be his stakes debut, and it's a stern test.

"Obviously, it's a big jump, but we don't have a whole lot of options," Motion said.

Smart Bid has won 2 of 4 starts for owner-breeder George Strawbridge Jr.'s Augustin Stable. A repeat of Smart Bid's last race would make him competitive in the Sham, which is run at 1 1/8 miles.

The field of 12 is led by The Pamplemousse, who won the Grade 3 San Rafael Stakes going a mile in his stakes debut on Jan. 17. The Pamplemousse will be part of the early pace.

Other contenders include Mr. Hot Stuff, a sharp maiden winner on Feb.o1, and Bourbon Bay, who has placed in two turf stakes.

Big Cap 20-year reunion

A 20-year reunion for the partners of 1989 Santa Anita Handicap winner Martial Law will be held at Santa Anita on this year's Big Cap day, March 7, according to Red Tucker, who was part of the Clover Racing Stables partnership that owned Martial Law.

Tickets to the event, which cost $35, include parking, admission, program, seating at a picnic table in the infield, lunch, soft drinks, and two clubhouse passes good for use on future days. A donation of $5 from every ticket sold will be made to the Exceller Fund, a racehorse rescue fund. Tickets are available through Tucker's niece, Susane Boyett, at (626) 363-5308.

Martial Law, a 50-1 shot, is the second-longest priced winner in the 71-year history of the Big Cap. Only 1941 winner Bay View, at 58-1, was a bigger surprise. Martial Law was ridden by Martin Pedroza and trained by Julio Canani.

- additional reporting by Jay Privman