04/28/2006 12:00AM

Sam's Ace may earn Preakness spot


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - It was not until the final sixteenth of the Grade 1 Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park on April 1 that it became apparent that Sam's Ace would not finish in the top three. After stalking the pace for the first mile, he lost ground late to finish fourth. That performance could make Sam's Ace the favorite in Sunday's $250,000 Snow Chief Stakes, and if he runs well, Sam's Ace could make his next start in the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico on May 20.

Trainer Doug O'Neill expects a win from , having been impressed by the Gulfstream Park race.

"I saw a horse that showed a lot of quality," O'Neill said. "He drew a bad post and shipped into a track that's not easy to ship to. It's very claustrophobic in the paddock. Now, he can run in his own backyard.

"Any one of his races would make him tough to beat."

The Snow Chief is run at 1 1/8 miles for California-bred 3-year-olds. The Snow Chief Stakes is the richest race on Sunday's 10-race California Gold Rush program for statebreds.

The Snow Chief Stakes has drawn a moderate field. Sam's Ace is the only member of the field of eight to start in a Grade 1. The lone stakes winner in the field is Da Stoops, who won two sprint stakes at Santa Anita during the winter.

Trainer Bob Baffert said that , who has never run farther than a mile, is running in the Snow Chief because of the prize money. Da Stoops is expected to be part of the pace, and Baffert is hoping that a longer trip will allow Da Stoops to conserve some energy.

"He's a speed horse that we're hoping can carry his speed," he said of Da Stoops, who is by Distorted Humor. "We don't know how he'll do until we do it.

"A mile and an eighth may seem a little far. He showed he's got a lot of quality. Distorted Humors are pretty good horses. The older they get, the further they go."

Da Stoops could be joined near the front by Scootin George, the beaten favorite in the La Puente Stakes on turf at Santa Anita on April 15, and Fighting City Hall, who is making his stakes debut.

Scootin George was near the front in the La Puente before fading in the final furlong of the one-mile race.

"I don't think he liked the soft turf," trainer Clifford Sise said. "It's a $250,000 purse, and I hope he runs good. I don't think a mile and an eighth is his distance."

A quick pace will help a stalking Sam's Ace or a closer such as Exchange Offer.

, trained by Dan Hendricks, is making his stakes debut after finishing fourth against older horses in an allowance race on April 6.

"We'll take him back and make a run," Hendricks said. "Maybe it will set up for him with horses like Da Stoops in there."

The field

Snow Chief Stakes
Purse: $250,000; 1 1/8 miles

1Scootin GeorgeP. Valenzuela1146-1
2Da StoopsV. Espinoza1198-5
3Sam's AceA. Solis1175-2
4Stephen BruceD. Flores11410-1
5Exchange OfferG. Gomez1148-1
6Mesa MagicT. Baze11412-1
7Fighting City HallA. Gryder1147-2
8Mr PlaywrightO. Martinez11415-1

* Odds by Michael Hammersly