01/13/2007 1:00AM

Notional wins San Rafael, with assist from blinkers


ARCADIA, Calif. - Trainer Doug O'Neill and owner Paul Reddam don't need blinkers to know the goal this spring. But Notional needed them.

After a pair of disappointing races, Notional got back to the winner's circle on Saturday at Santa Anita by making up five lengths in the final half-mile to capture the Grade 2, $150,000 San Rafael Stakes for 3-year-olds.

Notional is one of three 3-year-olds O'Neill and Reddam are pointing to the Kentucky Derby, along with stablemates Great Hunter, who was third in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile after winning the Breeders' Futurity, and Liquidity, the Hollywood Futurity runner-up. Notional most recently had finished sixth in the Hollywood Futurity, but with blinkers added Saturday, he rolled to a four-length victory in 1:36.48 for one mile on the fast main track.

"We'll keep them apart, and hope they clash in May," Reddam said in the winner's circle.

Notional ($3.40) was heavily favored against six rivals in a race that largely featured Derby prospects a cut below the West's best. He sat third under jockey Corey Nakatani while Tenfold sped off to a long lead through fractions of 23.01 seconds for the opening quarter-mile and 46.29 for a half-mile.

Notional moved up three paths wide on the far turn, took command soon after entering the stretch, and drew away. Tenfold just did hold on for second in a three-way photo that saw him a head better than late-running Grapelli, who nosed out Silent Soul for third.

"In the Hollywood Futurity, he got shuffled back farther than we wanted," Nakatani said. "Today was just a stepping-stone."

O'Neill said the blinkers might pay off even more down the line.

"If we keep his attention focused in races where the field size is bigger, that will be a little more important," O'Neill said.

Notional, a California-bred colt by In Excess, won first time out, then was third in the Hollywood Prevue in his start prior to the Hollywood Futurity. Reddam purchased Notional last March at Barretts for $235,000.

San Fernando: Awesome Gem by nose

Awesome Gem ran the same day as the Malibu Stakes, the first leg of the Strub series, but in a different race. By bypassing the seven-furlong Malibu Stakes to instead run in a two-turn grass race on Dec. 26, Awesome Gem might have had a leg up on his rivals on Saturday in the second leg of the Strub series. The payoff came in the final yards of the Grade 2, $200,000 San Fernando Breeders’ Cup Stakes at Santa Anita, when Awesome Gem caught Midnight Lute in the final jump to win by a nose.

Brother Derek, the 8-5 favorite, was another 1 1/4 lengths back in third, with Arson Squad fourth.

Midnight Lute, Brother Derek, and Arson Squad all were exiting the opening-day Malibu. Awesome Gem instead ran in the Sir Beaufort Stakes, which kept him around two turns.

With Tyler Baze in the saddle, Awesome Gem ($20) rallied strongly down the center of the track and just did nail Midnight Lute in 1:41.90 for 1 1/16 miles on the fast main track. Craig Dollase trains Awesome Gem, 4, who is owned by a partnership headed by West Point Thoroughbreds.

“We felt going two turns last time was better than going seven-eighths,” Dollase said. “It worked out well.”

Dollase said Awesome Gem, a gelding by Awesome Again, would come back in the 1 1/8-mile Strub on Feb. 3, and then take aim at the 1 1/4-mile Santa Anita Handicap on March 3.

“He’s bred for this,” Dollase said. “I would think he’d be better down the road at a mile and an eighth and a mile and a quarter.”