03/04/2009 1:00AM

No clear-cut favorite in Big Cap


ARCADIA, Calif. - The $1 million Santa Anita Handicap on Saturday is a Grade 1 race without a clear favorite.

Fourteen horses were entered on Wednesday, with Colonel John as the lukewarm 9-2 morning-line favorite. The winner of the Travers Stakes and Santa Anita Derby last year, Colonel John is slightly lower than Cowboy Cal at 5-1, and Court Vision, Einstein, and Matto Mondo at 6-1.

Any of them could win, and so could Magnum, Blue Exit, and Champs Elysees, who have won or run well in recent starts.

The race lost one top contender on Wednesday when Tiago was withdrawn because of poor appetite. Third in the Breeders' Cup Classic last October and third in the San Antonio Handicap last month, Tiago may have gone favored.

Tiago "backed off his feed a little" earlier this week, according to Dottie Ingordo, racing manager for owners Jerry and Ann Moss.

"It's too bad because he was doing so well," she said. "He was training superbly."

Trained by John Shirreffs, Ingordo's husband, the 5-year-old Tiago was fourth in the 2008 Big Cap.

Colonel John has not started since finishing fourth in the Grade 1 Malibu Stakes on Dec. 26. He was out of training briefly in January because of a pulled muscle but has worked steadily since late January.

Cowboy Cal is unbeaten in two starts this year - the Grade 2 San Pasqual Handicap against older horses on Jan. 10 and the Grade 2 Strub Stakes for 4-year-olds on Feb. 7.

Along with Einstein, Court Vision is a Florida shipper expected to play a prominent role. Both were beaten in recent starts at Gulfstream Park earlier this year.

Court Vision, a four-time stakes winner, was third to Kip Deville in the Grade 1 Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap on Feb. 1, closing from seventh to miss by three-quarters of a length.

"He ran a good race off the shelf in his first out this year," trainer Bill Mott said of the 4-year-old. "We've been looking at this race for a long time. It wasn't a last-minute decision."

Einstein, 7, was third in the Grade 1 Donn Handicap on dirt on Jan. 31, his first start since winning the Grade 2 Clark Handicap at Churchill Downs last November. The Big Cap will be Einstein's first start on a synthetic track and his 24th race.

Trainer Helen Pitts said she is not worried about the surface switch, having watched Einstein train at Santa Anita for a few days.

"He's gotten over this track great," she said.