Updated on 09/18/2011 1:13AM

A new and improved Backus


ARCADIA, Calif. - Since he returned from a 15-month layoff earlier this year, Backus has been a different horse for trainer Bob Baffert.

Two starts have resulted in two wins - a maiden claimer for sprinters at Hollywood Park in June and an optional claimer over a mile at Del Mar on Sept. 3. Before his return, Backus lost his first seven starts.

Backus will try for his third consecutive win in an optional claiming race over seven furlongs at the Oak Tree at Santa Anita meeting on Friday. While Baffert would prefer the race was longer, Backus did win a maiden claimer over 6 1/2 furlongs this year.

"It's not his ideal distance, but he's doing well," Baffert said.

Backus is by Real Quiet, the winner of the 1998 Kentucky Derby. Baffert trained Real Quiet and said that Backus's improvement is reflective of his sire's influence.

"I think with Real Quiets, you need to give them some time," Baffert said. "He just got better as he got older."

Backus is a stalker who is likely to follow Bro Lo and Paddy Murphy in Friday's race.

Bro Lo, an easy winner of the I'm Smokin Stakes for California-bred 2-year-olds at Del Mar in September 2005, has ample speed. Trained by Doug O'Neill, Bro Lo is coming off the worst performance of his four-race career, a seventh in an optional claimer over 6 1/2 furlongs at Del Mar on Aug. 31.

Bro Lo stumbled at the start of that race and faded to finish last. It was his second start of 2006, preceded by a game second in an optional claimer over five furlongs on turf at Del Mar on July 31.

Paddy Murphy, trained by Paddy Gallagher, has won two of his last four starts. Paddy Murphy finished second by a neck as the even-money favorite in an optional claimer at Del Mar on Aug. 14, racing near the front throughout before losing to Bushwacker.

Paddy Murphy was second in an allowance race over seven furlongs at Hollywood Park in July and won an allowance race over 6 1/2 furlongs there on July 8. He is best when racing near the front.

"His last three races have been good," Gallagher said.

Fitz Flag, Smoocher, and Sunshine Alpine are the other starters.

Fitz Flag was an intended starter in the Santa Anita Handicap last March before he was injured in the days before the race. Trained by Juan Riviriego, Fitz Flag finished fifth in the Grade 2 San Marcos Stakes in January.