03/29/2012 4:04PM

Santa Anita: The Black should get right set-up

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ARCADIA, Calif. – Five starts and five losses into his 2-year-old campaign, The Black was headed toward oblivion. The colt’s trainer blames himself.

“I probably screwed up,” Doug O’Neill said. “I had him in blinkers, routed, turf . . . I had him all over the place. I don’t know who was more confused, him or me.”

For a 3-year-old campaign, O’Neill was determined to restore order by focusing The Black on dirt sprints, no blinkers. The result was consecutive blowouts that stamp The Black as likely winner of the $200,000 Echo Eddie Stakes on Saturday at Santa Anita.

“We finally got some consistency with his equipment, his style, surface and distance,” O’Neill said. “And having Garrett Gomez doesn’t hurt, either.”

Nor does it hurt that the Echo Eddie sets up perfectly for The Black’s closing style. The 6 1/2-furlong race for California-bred 3-year-olds, the 10th and final race Saturday, is brimming with speed.

Five front-runners – Pulpit’s Express, Coach Bob, Three Vases, A Toast to You and Derby Gold – ensure a swift pace for The Black. Owned by Scott McKeever, the late-runner seeks his third straight after crushing maidens by more than 11 lengths and a starter allowance by two lengths, “ridden out.”

While the Beyer Speed Figure of 83 earned by The Black is merely average, video review of his victory should allay concerns about whether he is good enough. The win was dazzling. “He’s a big, lanky horse that looks like he would get two turns,” O’Neill said. “But he has amazing ability to sprint.”

Gomez picks up the mount on The Black from Rafael Bejarano, who is scheduled to ride The Factor on Saturday in Dubai. The Black is drawn outside in the field of 13.

While it took The Black all of 2011 to find his niche, Pulpit’s Express was a quick study for trainer Mike Mitchell and owner-breeders Jerry Dutton and Tom Kessler. Before his Jan. 5 debut, Mitchell warned Dutton that Pulpit’s Express was not quick from the gate.

After an “off poorly” fifth-place debut in a $40,000 maiden-claimer, Dutton suggested Mitchell ship him to Northern California and run him cheap. Mitchell believed that Pulpit’s Express deserved a second chance and pleaded with Dutton to keep him.

“I said, “Please, I’ll run him for 30,’ ” Mitchell said, though he believed the gelding’s value was higher. Second time out, Pulpit’s Express raced to the lead, and won by more than seven. Thankfully for Mitchell, he was not claimed. “I was sweating bullets,” Mitchell said.

Pulpit’s Express stretched to 1 1/16 miles for his next start, and won by more than four. “I could be totally wrong, but I think six and a half, or seven [furlongs] is his best distance,” Mitchell said.

Joel Rosario rides Pulpit’s Express, whose challenge is pace. He breaks from post 4, inside his main pace rivals. “I’m not saying anything [to Rosario],” Mitchell said. “No instructions.”

Peter Miller is the new trainer for A Toast to You, who makes his first start since a big debut victory in June. Miller, who also co-owns the colt, said, “He’s training well. He’s not blowing my mind or anything, but he’s training well.”

Other starters include La Mano Nera, Real Conundrum, G’night, Bench Light, Exotic Slew, Passing Game, and Already There.