04/02/2008 12:00AM

Past stars scramble down hill in turf sprint


ARCADIA, Calif. - Cheroot, Epic Power, Lucky J.H., and McCann's Mojave have been among the stars of the California-bred older horse division the last few years.

The presence of all four in Friday's $125,000 Sensational Star Handicap at Santa Anita gives the race enormous depth - and makes the race over about 6 1/2 furlongs on the hillside turf course a tricky one to handicap.

None of the four is coming off a win, but they have delivered performances in recent starts suggesting they cannot be ignored.

Cheroot won the Daytona Handicap against open company on Feb. 17 in his first try on the hillside turf course, but returned to finish seventh in the Crystal Water Handicap against statebreds over a mile on turf on March 16.

"The race didn't go the right way for him," trainer Darrell Vienna said of the Crystal Water. "He had a skin infection in a pastern and we had to treat it. I'm always afraid that antibiotics take an edge off a horse."

Vienna said the Daytona Handicap was an eye-opener. "I didn't know if he'd sprint," he said.

Epic Power was fourth in the Crystal Water, his seventh consecutive loss. A 7-year-old gelding, Epic Power won two stakes last year.

McCann's Mojave, a winner of 11 of 32 starts and $1,375,855, was second in the Presidents' Day Stakes at Bay Meadows on Feb. 18. The winner of the 2004 Sensational Star, McCann's Mojave, 8, was fourth in the Grade 3 Morvich Handicap on the hillside turf course last October, his most recent start in a turf sprint.

"Being off for a while, he ran a good race that day," trainer Steve Specht said. "He had a little trouble. It had to hurt him a little bit being away so long."

Lucky J.H. was third in the Crystal Water Handicap and has never been worse than third in four starts on turf.

Trained by Carla Gaines for John Harris, Lucky J.H. is likely to stalk the Harris-owned High Standards, who was 10th in the Sunshine Millions Sprint in January.

Trainer Barry Abrams said on Wednesday that Medzendeekron and Unusual Suspect would be scratched in favor of other stakes.