Updated on 09/16/2011 7:52AM

Ramona's top 3 love the course

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Benoit & Associates
Surya (above) has the potential to spring a surprise in the Ramona, which includes such stars as Janet, Golden Apples, and Affluent.

DEL MAR, Calif. - Janet, Golden Apples, and Surya have come a long way since their United States debuts in past seasons at Del Mar. Saturday, these top-class turf fillies - once unknown and unheralded - battle toward the top of their division in the Grade 1 John C. Mabee/Ramona Handicap.

Janet was a seemingly outclassed import when she sprang a $37 upset in a first-level Del Mar allowance in 2000, and scored her first Grade 1 win here last year when she paid $32.80 winning the Ramona. She now stands poised to pass the $1 million career earnings mark for trainer Darrell Vienna.

Golden Apples snuck into the Grade 1 Del Mar Oaks at 21-1 last year. Her explosive kick carried her to victory and sent her toward becoming one of the country's leading turf females. Trainer Ben Cecil hopes the Ramona - her first start in three months - will prepare her for the Beverly D. three weeks from now.

As for Surya, she remains under the radar. But her 12-length maiden win last summer at Del Mar suggested to trainer Bobby Frankel she was a potential superstar. She enters the Ramona off two impressive comeback wins, and enters the 1 1/8-mile Ramona as a potential upsetter.

Add Grade 1 winner Affluent, and the Ramona is taking shape as one of the strongest filly-mare turf races of the year. The only one missing is division leader Astra, waiting for the Beverly D. Golden Apples enters the Ramona as the 120-pound highweight, and her performance Saturday may lead her in the same direction. Before she runs in the Beverly D., she needs a prep. The timing of the Ramona is perfect.

"It's it prep, but we're trying to win it," Cecil said. "We're not going out there to give her a quiet run. I think she's up to it."

She certainly is good enough. Golden Apples scored one of the most impressive turf wins of the 2001 Del Mar season in the Oaks, and reproduced the form in five subsequent graded stakes. Her most recent start April 20 at Santa Anita resulted in a disappointing second-place finish, but she had an excuse. After the race, it was discovered she was compromised by a large throat abscess.

"Dr. Jeff Blea said it was the one of the biggest he had seen," Cecil said. "With that in there, she had every right to finish dead last."

Cecil put Golden Apples on antibiotics, the malady cleared up, and now Cecil faces a race against time.

"I'd say she is 95 percent now. Hopefully by the Beverly D. she'll be 100 percent," Cecil said. "She's starting to put weight back on, and I loved the way she worked Monday."

Golden Apples has won 4 of 10, and she would be the most likely winner if her current form was clear and the Ramona was the ultimate goal. She is in top health, but could come up short. "Nothing is a [physical] issue now, it's just a race off a layoff," said Cecil.

If Golden Apples fails to deliver her patented rally, the scrappy and under-appreciated Janet will be one of the beneficiaries. "She's been in a lot of tough battles, and she's beaten a lot of good horses," said her trainer, Vienna. Janet loves Del Ma, where she is 2 for 3, and her current form is strong. Though she finished third in the Grade 2 New York Handicap last time out, she was beaten only 1 1/4 lengths.

"She may have made the lead a little early," Vienna said. "She's training well here, and she runs well everywhere. She's a tough, sound, honest mare who always acquits herself well."

Janet has won 8 of 25 and earned $979,237. She has finished behind Golden Apples all three times they met.

Affluent returns to turf after chasing Azeri in her last three starts on the main track. Affluent, trained by Ron McAnally, has won 6 of 16 and earned more than $1 million. Her three starts on grass have resulted in two wins and a second.

Canzone, Crazy Ensign, Snowflake, Eurolink Raindance, and Netherland are also in the field.

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