01/22/2015 2:49PM

San Onofre heads up California Cup Sprint

Shigeki Kikkawa
San Onofre, shown above winning an optional claimer, will start Saturday in the California Sprint Cup at Santa Anita Park.

ARCADIA, Calif. – San Onofre has inherited the inside post, and the role of favorite for Saturday’s $150,000 California Cup Sprint at Santa Anita.

San Onofre was expected to be the second choice in the betting but moved up a position when Big Macher was withdrawn Friday morning. Trainer Richard Baltas said he scratched Big Macher from the Cal Cup Sprint because of an inside draw and a desire to run in the $200,000 Palos Verdes Stakes on Jan. 31 as a possible prep for the $2 million Golden Shaheen Sprint in Dubai on March 28.

On Friday, there was an additional scratch from the Cal Cup Sprint when Frumious was withdrawn.

San Onofre, unraced since last February, will have the inside post in a field of seven. The race is run at six furlongs.

Saturday’s program includes one other sprint stakes – the $150,000 Sunshine Millions Filly and Mare Turf Sprint for California-bred fillies and mares on the hillside turf course. There were two scratches Friday for the Filly and Mare Turf Sprint – Air of Royalty and Shakeitupbetty.

:: CALIFORNIA CUP: Get PPs, watch Saturday’s Santa Anita card live

Cal Cup Sprint (race 8)

Key contenders

San Onofre (Last 3 Beyers: 97-99-99)

* San Onofre has not raced since last February, when he won an optional claimer at 6 1/2 furlongs for his fourth consecutive win.

* The Cal Cup Sprint will be San Onofre’s stakes debut. Mike Smith, who has ridden the gelding during the win streak, has the mount. San Onofre is quick and certainly can lead but has shown the ability to race from slightly off the pace.

“He’s so versatile,” trainer Karen Headley said. “He can go anywhere. He’s a good fit with Mike.”

Rousing Sermon (Last 3 Beyers: 97-75-80)

* Rousing Sermon was second in the Cary Grant Stakes for California-breds at seven furlongs, losing by a neck to Big Macher. This will be Rousing Sermon’s first start at six furlongs since a third-place finish in the I’m Smokin Stakes for California-breds at Del Mar in September 2011.

* Rousing Sermon won the On Trust Handicap at 7 1/2 furlongs around one turn at Hollywood Park in November 2013. A 6-year-old horse trained by Jerry Hollendorfer, Rousing Sermon was eighth in the 2012 Kentucky Derby behind I’ll Have Another.

Spirit Rules (Last 3 Beyers: 80-86-52)

* Spirit Rules was second or third in three stakes in the final six months of 2014 but has yet to win at that level of competition. A 6-year-old gelding trained by Paul Aguirre, Spirit Rules was third in the Harris Farms Stakes at the Big Fresno Fair in October behind Marino’s Wild Cat, who is part of the Cal Cup Sprint field.

* Spirit Rules is a stalker, who is well drawn on the outside of the field.

:: DRF Live: Get real-time updates and insights from DRF reporters and handicappers on Saturday

Filly and Mare Turf Sprint (race 7)

Key contenders

Velvet Mesquite (Last 3 Beyers: 91-77-89)

* Velvet Mesquite is proven on the hillside, with five wins in seven career starts on the course. A 5-year-old mare owned by John Harris, Velvet Mesquite won the California Distaff Handicap on the hillside in October and was third as the 7-2 favorite in the Grade 2 Monrovia Stakes on the hillside Jan. 4.

* Smith rides Velvet Mesquite, who will have a prominent role as part of the pace.

“It looks like there a lot of speed,” trainer Blake Heap said. “I don’t think she has to be in front.”

* Heap said Velvet Mesquite was unlucky in the Monrovia when she lost by a length to Shrinking Violet.

“She ducked out and hit the gate at the start,” he said. “Mike said that knocked her back a bit. We’re looking for a clean trip. You have to get lucky in a 14-horse field.”

Heat Trap (Last 3 Beyers: 91-90-89)

* Heat Trap never has been worse than third in five starts on the hillside, including a game second in the Monrovia Stakes. Heat Trap is the opposite of Velvet Mesquite in that she will be at the back of the field early.

“A wicked pace would benefit her,” trainer Carla Gaines said. “That would be awesome. Her biggest issue down the hill is getting through traffic. That’s her style, and you can’t change it.”