04/09/2006 11:00PM

Neko Bay bred to go distance

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ARCADIA, Calif. - surprised owners Jerry and Ann Moss and trainer John Shirreffs with an upset win in a maiden sprint last month.

What was expected to be an introduction to racing became an impressive maiden win.

"We didn't expect him to do that well going short," Shirreffs said. "He ran so well."

The victory leads Neko Bay to a second start in an optional claimer at a mile at Santa Anita on Wednesday.

Neko Bay is one of five starters in the optional claimer, and one of two horses in the field who has not run in a straight claiming race. Neko Bay's main rival is Fear No Darkness, a colt by Horse Chestnut trained by Bob Baffert. Blazing Sunset, Smart Croation, and The Five J's are the other entrants.

Neko Bay is by Giant's Causeway out of Brulay, the winner of the Grade 2 Railbird Stakes at Hollywood Park in 1998. Brulay was campaigned by the Mosses.

Shirreffs described Neko Bay "as a late-maturing horse." In his maiden win at 6 1/2 furlongs, Neko Bay rallied from sixth of nine runners to win by 1 1/2 lengths. Neko Bay was nominated to Sunday's San Pedro Stakes for sprinters, but was not entered.

Shirreffs had his eye on Wednesday's longer race.

"With a Giant's Causeway, it makes you feel good," Shirreffs said, regarding the longer distance. "We don't want to reinforce the speed. He trains like a horse that wants to go farther. There are a lot of opportunities for horses when they develop."

Fear No Darkness has made two starts, finishing second to Neko Bay on March 4 and returning to win a maiden race at 1 1/16 miles on March 19. In that race, he rallied from fifth to win by a neck over Three Points, who has subsequently won.

Those two figure to dominate the betting with Neko Bay as the favorite. The other three starters will be longer prices.

Blazing Sunset has yet to win in California. He finished sixth in the Santa Catalina Stakes on March 4 and was eighth in the San Felipe Stakes on March 18. Trained by Doug O'Neill, Blazing Sunset is entered to be claimed for $80,000.

The Five J's finished third in the California Derby at Golden Gate Fields on March 11, his 12th start. Smart Croation beat maiden claimers in his second start on March 25.