01/05/2010 12:00AM

Merrily looks to build on last two

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ARCADIA, Calif. - Merrily has been back and forth across the United States in the last two years with minimal results. She has 1 win in 11 races over 7 tracks in 4 states.

Trainer Sean McCarthy knows that the 6-year-old mare needs to pad her record and is hoping Merrily can do so in an optional claimer over six furlongs at Santa Anita on Thursday.

Merrily will make her fifth start for McCarthy on Thursday, and her late 2009 form was encouraging enough to think she can be a factor. After finishing sixth in optional claimers at Del Mar and Fairplex Park during the summer, Merrily improved on Santa Anita's synthetic track in the fall. She finished third in an allowance race over 1 1/16 miles on Oct. 6 and second as an 87-1 outsider in an optional claimer over 6 1/2 furlongs on Nov. 6, on the undercard of the Breeders' Cup Ladies' Classic.

"She's turned the corner lately," McCarthy said. "She ran so well on the day of the Breeders' Cup I wanted to give her extra time."

McCarthy passed on the Hollywood Park fall meeting with Merrily because he said the mare does not handle van rides very well.

"She doesn't ship that well, which is kind of funny because she's been all over the country," he said.

Owned by Monty Roberts, Merrily has had five trainers, though she has been with McCarthy for the most starts. She was second in the Kachina Handicap at Turf Paradise in January 2008 when trained by Clay Brinson.

In Thursday's race, Merrily is likely to race near the front, which McCarthy said is an asset.

"She can be close," he said. "I think she's got tactical speed."

Merrily will have nine opponents, including two starters from the red-hot Bob Baffert stable - Via Veneto and Underground.

Via Veneto won her debut at Del Mar in August 2008 but was winless in four starts last year. She was second in an allowance race over six furlongs at Hollywood Park on Nov. 27. Typical of most Baffert-trained runners, she has worked quickly in recent weeks.

Underground has a similar career pattern. A 4-year-old filly, she won her debut at Hollywood Park last May, but is winless in four subsequent starts in New York and Florida. She was third in a minor sprint stakes at Belmont Park in September.