04/04/2008 11:00PM

Mitchell on the lead turning for home


ARCADIA, Calif. - The race for the training title at the Santa Anita winter-spring meeting may go down to the end of the meeting on April 20. None of the three leading contenders - Mike Mitchell, John Sadler, and Doug O'Neill - is ready to predict the result.

Through Friday, Mitchell led all trainers with 25 winners, two more than Sadler and O'Neill. Bobby Frankel was fourth with 21 wins.

Mitchell admits his two-win lead is tenuous, and that whether he wins the title depends on what races are used in the final weeks of the meeting.

"I've got a few more to run," he said. "I've got some horses that should be tough to beat if the races go. I think we'll do okay, it depends on the numbers. I'm just delighted with the meeting I've had."

Mitchell, 59, said he will have two starters in the richest race of the final two weeks of the meeting - defending champion On the Acorn and Big Booster in the $250,000 San Juan Capistrano Invitational Handicap over about 1 3/4 miles on turf on April 20, closing day.

Mitchell said he doesn't need to win the title to have a successful meeting, and ventures that his rivals are thinking the same way.

"When it comes down to John Sadler and Doug O'Neill, we're not going to run anything out of line to be leading trainer," he said. "Doug can run five horses a day and beat you on the numbers. I think I'll be consistent. I'll be in the hunt."

Through Friday, Mitchell had had 106 starters since the Dec. 26 opening day compared to 217 for O'Neill and 139 for Sadler.

O'Neill, 39, said on Friday that he has about 20 more horses to start at the meeting.

"I should have four or five wins left in me," he said. "How's that for being cocky? I ran a few recently that I thought would run well and they didn't."

Sadler, 51, expects his stable to have a strong finish at the meeting, saying, "I like my stock in the next two weeks."

Lucky J.H. all the way back

Lucky J.H. won his first stakes in nearly two years in Friday's $135,500 Sensational Star Handicap for statebreds. After the race trainer Carla Gaines proclaimed that the 6-year-old is near his career-best form.

Ridden by Victor Espinoza, Lucky J.H. ($4.40) rallied from sixth through traffic to win by three-quarters of a length over High Standards. Both Lucky J.H. and High Standards are owned by breeder John Harris. The $1 Harris Farms exacta returned $18.30.

Lucky J.H. ran about 6 1/2 furlongs on the hillside turf course in 1:12.09.

"He showed another dimension by running down the hill," Harris said.

The Sensational Star was Lucky J.H.'s first stakes win since the Grade 3 Ack Ack Handicap at Hollywood Park in June 2006.

"He's back to the level we expect him to be," Gaines said. "We've had a bunch of problems with his feet."

Gaines credited Eastern-based farrier Curtis Burns for his work with Lucky J.H. Burns makes a monthly trip to California to check on Lucky J.H., Gaines said.

Lucky J.H. will make his next start in a stakes on California Gold Rush Day at Hollywood Park on April 27.

Gaines's stable has been in outstanding form. Lucky J.H. was her fifth consecutive winner. She won a sixth straight with Best Affair ($21) in Saturday's first race.

Look for $100K claim on turf

Mitchell claimed Kilderry for $100,000 in Friday's eighth race, the most expensive claim of the meeting. Kilderry finished fourth in the sprint for maiden claimers. Mitchell wants to start the 3-year-old gelding on turf.

"I did a little homework on the horse," Mitchell said. "I claimed him to run on the grass. We'll see if he's that good or not."

Kilderry was claimed by Mitchell on behalf of Dan Capen and Steve and Jeff Ustin.