03/13/2008 11:00PM

Mr. Wolverine gets to show if he belongs


ARCADIA, Calif. - It might be too late for Mr. Wolverine, at age 6, to become a serious California-bred stakes horse. But when he runs a mile on turf Sunday in the $100,000 Crystal Water Handicap at Santa Anita, Mr. Wolverine is worth chasing one more time.

"This race will determine where we're going to be," trainer Jorge Gutierrez said, and he still believes Mr. Wolverine can be a top horse. "I think so, I really do."

The Crystal Water field consists of 10 blue-collar California-breds, including stakes winners Cheroot, Epic Power, and Lucky J.H. Celtic Dreamin will try to rebound from a last-place finish in the Santa Anita Handicap.

Longshots Add Heat and Medzendeekron will rally from behind.

The combined record of the Crystal Water field is 55 wins from 221 starts, and earnings of $3.5 million. It is a tough spot for Mr. Wolverine, whose 3-for-9 record makes him the least-experienced entrant, and he is moving up in class off a modest win in a first-level allowance.

But if Gutierrez is right, Mr. Wolverine should run the best race of his career Sunday.

"This might be the first time he's been able to put races back to back," he said. "I couldn't work him [sufficiently] into his last race because of rain, but this time he hasn't missed a work."

Michael Baze rides Mr. Wolverine, runner-up in the 2006 Crystal Water at odds of 62-1. He overcame a soft course and a slow pace to win his last start, and the fractions should be quicker on Sunday.

Front-runner Lucky J.H. has no alternative from post 10 except race to the front. He drops in class and shortens in distance, but Cheroot will be nipping at his heels. Cheroot scored a 28-1 upset last time out in a downhill sprint, and though best around one turn, he has won routing.

As for Celtic Dreamin, his last-place debacle in the Santa Anita Handicap remains a mystery. "I can't understand it; his blood test was okay," trainer Rafael Becerra said, adding, "I'll just draw a line through it." Celtic Dreamin previously finished one-two in nine straight starts, and he had a good grass workout on Monday.

Epic Power has won 12 of 54, and benefits from a class drop and shorter distance.

The outsiders include El Don, Bestdressed, and Rush With Thunder.