08/09/2006 11:00PM

Porto Santo just needs to stay out of trouble

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DEL MAR, Calif. - Porto Santo ran too well to lose in the second division of the Oceanside Stakes at Del Mar on July 19. He was making a bold move in the stretch when he was bothered, and finished second by a head.

The near miss will make Porto Santo the favorite in Saturday's $150,000 La Jolla Handicap for 3-year-olds at 1 1/16 miles on turf.

faces a field that includes two major stakes winners on dirt - A. P. Warrior and Arson Squad, both of whom are trying turf for the first time.

Porto Santo has run exclusively on turf in France and the United States. A winner of three of seven starts, Porto Santo is making his second U.S. start in the Grade 2 La Jolla. Purchased earlier this summer by television producer David Milch, Porto Santo was a minor stakes winner in France earlier this year. He later finished sixth in the French 2000 Guineas.

In the Oceanside Stakes at a mile, he broke slowly but rallied from eighth to reach contention in the stretch. Just when it appeared that Porto Santo would take command of the race, jockey Victor Espinoza was forced to check when New Joysey Jeff drifted into his path. Despite the incident, Porto Santo continued his run and was beaten a head by Obridgado.

"That's racing luck," said trainer Julio Canani.

Canani was frustrated by the result, but was left impressed by the way Porto Santo reached contention without being urged on the second turn.

"When he was moving, he was doing it on his own," Canani said.

Even if he has a better start, Porto Santo will be off the pace in the first half of the La Jolla. The Five J's, sixth in the first division of the Oceanside, is expected to set the pace. He may face an early challenge from A. P. Warrior, who won the Grade 2 San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita in March.

Trained by John Shirreffs, is winless in four subsequent starts, including an 18th in the Kentucky Derby and a third behind Arson Squad in the Grade 2 Swaps Breeders' Cup Stakes at Hollywood Park on July 18.

Shirreffs did not work A. P. Warrior on turf because he didn't want to work the horse on the outside part of the course, where works are typically conducted, because he thinks that part of the course is not in good shape. Earlier this week, Shirreffs did not seem worried about the surface switch.

"He's pretty effective on dirt," Shirreffs said. "There is no reason he wouldn't be as good on the turf."

is by Brahms, a major stakes winner on turf. That convinced trainer Bruce Headley that Arson Squad will handle the surface.

"He's the type of horse that has a real quick burst of speed, and that can help on grass," Headley said. "It's an experiment. He's very sharp and in really good shape. We'll know if breeding really is a factor."

Arson Squad is a stalker. He may have to get first run on Porto Santo to have any chance of beating him.