10/07/2008 12:00AM

Payday for breeders – and maybe bettors, too


PHOENIX – One of the best developments over the last couple decades racing has been the advent of celebrating the statebred. Racing jurisdictions around the country now hold at least a day’s worth of racing to highlight the home product, and it has led to enormous economic benefits for breeders and owners.

Sunday’s California Cup at Santa Anita’s Oak Tree meeting could be hiding a nugget or two for horseplayers. Here are a few who may be situated to fire – at a decent price, no less.

Spot the Diplomat (race 5, $50,000 starter handicap) – Yes, his last at Sacramento Aug. 30 wasn’t very pretty – he broke slowly from the rail and fell apart – but he isn’t the first Southern California runner to go north and not flourish. He was also chasing insane splits set by Tribesman, one of the quickest horses in the country, and he paid a price. His race prior saw him in too tough in the Grade 1 Bing Crosby, but he ran lights out, stalking the pace and surging to the lead in midstretch before being overwhelmed by better runners and ending up fifth, beaten just over two lengths. That was a second straight huge effort, earning a 101 Beyer. Prior to that he romped for $40,000 July 4 at Hollywood and earned a 105.

Two things appeal Sunday. First, his price figures to float upward with that Sacramento fiasco staring people in the face. If he were to go into this off that fine Bing Crosby run his odds would likely be in the 9-2 range; that Sacramento dud can scare some away, meaning he may be 6-1 or higher.

The other appeal is the race shape. This guy has the speed to get position, but isn’t speed-crazy. A trip similar to what he got in that big July 4 win and that fine Bing Crosby effort would make him very tough here, and he should get a great setup with sizzlers like Kool Comic, Valiant Effort, Excessive Dreamer and Moves Like a Cat figuring to go at it hot and heavy early.

Lit’sgoodlookngray (race 8, $150,000 Cal Cup Sprint) – He comes here off a second-place finish to Talkin to Mom Roo, who absolutely freaked that day (Beyered 107). This guy did everything he could; he just wasn’t good enough. Prior to that he chased Cost of Freedom at Del Mar on Aug. 9 as that guy set a track record for a 110 Beyer. Cost of Freedom promptly came back to win the Grade 1 Ancient Title here last Saturday, posting another 110 Beyer and stamping himself one of the favorites for the BC Sprint Oct. 25.

It’s not like he faces a bunch of pushovers here, but none of these figure to go in the BC Sprint, and as with Spot the Diplomat the setup may be ideal. Tribesman, as mentioned above, is one of the quickest horses around. He figures to sizzle early, but you can bet High Standards, Johnny Eves, Topper Shopper and Bro Lo aren’t just going to hand him an easy lead. Lit’sgoodlookngray should get the right kind of pace, and his current form gives him the chance to take advantage at around 8-1. 

Rockella (race 9, $150,000 Cal Cup Distaff) – I’ve always liked this girl. Trainer Jerry Hollendorfer claimed her for $32,000 a year and a half or so ago at the perfect time. She was just coming into her own. She had a busy and productive 2007 but things haven’t gone quite so well this year.

Rockella hasn’t raced since May, and running her fresh been a proven move for her the past couple seasons. Off a layoff of more than two months, she finished a rallying second at 8-1 in the Wishing Well on this downhill turf course at this trip in February.

While she’s spent the bulk of her time routing, she’s always struck me as maybe most effective as a late-running sprinter.

It’s great to see Rafael Bejarano take the call, as he and Hollendorfer have had considerable success together with the likes of Heatseeker. In fact, Bejarano teamed with Rockella in her second-place finish in the Wishing Well.

A bullet five-furlong move in 59.80 at Golden Gate Sept. 22 and a six-furlong work there in 1:13 Sept. 28 signal her readiness, and her 2008 form can help her odds float up into the 6-1 to 8-1 range.