01/20/2015 2:08PM

San Onofre returns in California Cup

Shigeki Kikkawa
San Onofre's start in Saturday's California Cup will be his first since winning an optional claiming race last February.

ARCADIA, Calif. – San Onofre zoomed through the early months of the 2013-14 Santa Anita winter-spring meeting, winning three times in less than 60 days. It seemed to be the start of an exciting 4-year-old campaign for the gelding until he was sidelined with injury.

Nearly 11 months later, San Onofre returns to racing in Saturday’s $150,000 California Cup Sprint at Santa Anita, a race that drew a tough field of nine. San Onofre, who has yet to run in a stakes, will start against Big Macher, winner of the Grade 1 Bing Crosby Stakes at Del Mar last summer; the multiple stakes winner Rousing Sermon; and stakes winners Frumious and Marino’s Wild Cat.

“It’s not the ideal spot after a layoff,” trainer Karen Headley said. “I think he’s sharp enough to win.”

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

Headley, the daughter of trainer Bruce Headley, has watched San Onofre work fast in recent weeks, including five furlongs in 57.80 seconds on Sunday.

“He always works fast,” she said.

The six-furlong California Cup Sprint may not define San Onofre’s season. He may be pointed to longer races, including one sprint with sentimental value to the Headley family. Karen Headley said she would like to run San Onofre in the $200,000 Kona Gold Stakes at 6 1/2 furlongs on April 11. The Grade 2 Kona Gold Stakes was formerly run as the Potrero Grande Stakes. Kona Gold was the champion sprinter of 2000 for Bruce Headley.

Later in the year, races around two turns are possible for San Onofre, Karen Headley said.

The Cal Cup Sprint is one of five six-figure stakes for statebreds on Saturday’s 10-race program.

There are two $250,000 races – the California Cup Derby at 1 1/16 miles and the California Cup Turf Classic at 1 1/8 miles. Acceptance, unbeaten in three starts, will be favored in the Cal Cup Derby, a race won in 2014 by California Chrome. Alert Bay, who has won four consecutive stakes – in British Columbia, New Mexico, and at Santa Anita – leads the Cal Cup Classic field.

Heat the Rocks, second in the Soviet Problem Stakes at Los Alamitos on Dec. 7, will be a strong favorite making her turf debut in the $200,000 California Cup Oaks at a mile.

The largest field of the day is in the $150,000 Sunshine Millions Filly and Mare Turf Sprint over about 6 1/2 furlongs on the hillside turf course. Velvet Mesquite, who has won five of seven starts on the course, heads the field.