11/01/2007 12:00AM

Mile contenders look very similar

EmailARCADIA, Calif. - Several of the top contenders for Saturday's $175,000 California Cup Mile at the Oak Tree at Santa Anita meeting are having the same kind of season. They have made several starts, typically seven to 10, and have managed two or three wins apiece.

While that may not be a flattering record, it is indicative of how the best California-bred milers have taken turns winning important races in 2007.

Epic Power, the defending champion of the California Cup Mile, has won 2 of 8 starts this year, including the Khaled Stakes at Hollywood Park in April. Jack's Wild won the California Turf Championship at Bay Meadows in August. The highlight of Now Victory's season was an upset win in the Grade 3 Bay Meadows Breeders' Cup Handicap in September.

Those are just the older horses. Among the 3-year-olds, Big Bad Leroybrown, Zoning In, and Unusual Suspect have won stakes.

The depth of the field makes the California Cup Mile an excellent betting race. Epic Power and Now Victory are the 121-pound highweights, assigned two pounds more than Jack's Wild.

Jack's Wild, trained by Jorge Gutierrez, was second to Now Victory in the Bay Meadows BC Handicap on Sept. 22. Since returning to Southern California from that race, Jack's Wild has been a different horse, Gutierrez said.

"He's really come around since I took him up north," Gutierrez said.

A closer, Jack's Wild is reliant on a decent pace, which should exist with the presence of Now Victory, Joy's Comet, and Zoning In.

"You have to break and let him settle," Gutierrez said of Jack's Wild. "I hope there is some pace to run at."

Joy's Comet is making his stakes debut in Saturday's race. Trained by Ted H. West, the 4-year-old Joy's Comet was purchased privately by Jeffrey Sengara from breeder Ellen Jackson over the summer. Joy's Comet is unbeaten in two starts on turf, but the wins came against much weaker, in a starter allowance and a starter handicap at Golden Gate Fields in the spring.

Now Victory was 31-1 when he won the Bay Meadows BC Handicap but will attract ample support on Saturday. Trained by Dean Pederson, Now Victory races near the front, but has won from just off the pace.

Epic Power will be close to the leaders. Epic Power breaks from the rail, which trainer Jack Carava said will not hinder the 6-year-old gelding.

"I think anything inside is okay going a mile," Carava said. "Other than the worry of not getting through, I don't mind being on the inside."

Epic Power was second to Jack's Wild in the California Turf Championship at Bay Meadows on Aug. 25, and was second to Bold Chieftain in the California Dreamin Handicap at Del Mar on Aug. 3.

Carava said the layoff since the Bay Meadows race could affect Epic Power.

"He doesn't put everything into his mornings and I'm a little worried," he said. "I thought this would be better than trying to get a race three weeks before."