11/12/2008 1:00AM

O'Neill pair a cut above these rivals


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - The star California-bred Mr. Chairman and the world traveler Great Hunter give trainer Doug O'Neill a formidable team in Thursday's fifth race at Santa Anita.

The two older horses approach the race having had diverse seasons.

Mr. Chairman won the most prestigious race of his career in his last start, the $250,000 California Cup Classic at Santa Anita on Oct. 5. Owned by the Great Friends Stable partnership, Mr. Chairman has not been worse than third in seven starts this year.

Great Hunter, meanwhile, has yet to finish in the first three in four starts this year, but has run in some of the world's toughest races. Owned by Paul Reddam, Great Hunter was sixth in the Grade 2 San Fernando Stakes, fourth in the Grade 2 Strub Stakes, and eighth in the $1 million Santa Anita Handicap before finishing fifth behind Curlin in the $6 million Dubai World Cup in the Middle East in March.

They are two of the six entrants in an optional claimer at 1 1/16 miles on the main track.

On the strength of his recent form, Mr. Chairman will be favored.

Mr. Chairman has drawn the outside post, which suits his style. In the California Cup Classic, his debut on a synthetic track, Mr. Chairman was fifth early and steadily made progress through the stretch to outfinish the filly Romance Is Diane by a head.

"He's honest," O'Neill said.

Great Hunter was withdrawn from the Fasig-Tipton November mixed sale earlier this month.

"So many of the older horses go to the breeding shed early," O'Neill said. "We wanted to race another year. Hopefully there is some life left in his legs."

Great Hunter, winless in his last seven starts, was a top member of his generation two years ago. As a 2-year-old in the fall of 2006, Great Hunter won the Grade 1 Breeders' Futurity at Keeneland and was third behind Street Sense in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. In the spring of 2007, Great Hunter won the Grade 2 Robert Lewis Stakes at Santa Anita and was later 13th in the Kentucky Derby.

The other four entrants - Barber, Isipingo, Mostacolli Mort, and Racketeer - are coming off losses. They are all stakes-placed in the last year.

Mostacolli Mort, the only horse entered for an $80,000 claiming price, was third in the Grade 2 San Diego Handicap at Del Mar in July.