10/19/2012 3:14PM

Santa Anita: Comma to the Top must be caught in Big Bear Handicap

Benoit & Associates
Comma to the Top has won 3 of 8 route attempts.

ARCADIA, Calif. – Strategy is not a secret for Comma to the Top, the favorite in the $65,000 Big Bear Handicap on Sunday at Santa Anita.

“We’re going to put him on the lead,” trainer Peter Miller said. “For this kind of race, I think we’ve got no other choice. We’ll be winging. We’ll be in front.”

No kidding. Five horses entered the Big Bear, a stakes at a mile on the main track that Comma to the Top can win if he carries his speed.

Miller is confident the 4-year-old gelding will stay, even though he has not won a route race since he was 2.

“He ran second in the Santa Anita Derby at a mile and an eighth, and he won the Cash Call at a mile and a sixteenth,” Miller noted. “I have been wanting to stretch him out.”

The Big Bear is an ideal race to do just that. Comma to the Top, 9 for 22 and closing in on $1 million in earnings, is the “now” horse in the restricted stakes, race 3, which includes Jaycito, Tres Borrachos, Riveting Reason, and Shaun Washington.

Corey Nakatani was the regular rider for Comma to the Top early in the horse’s career and rides him Sunday for the first time since missing by a head in the 2011 Santa Anita Derby. A gelding with $922,096 in earnings, Comma to the Top has made eight starts over a route of ground, winning three.

Comma to the Top’s chance to win Sunday depends on strategy employed by Riveting Reason, an occasional front-runner whose jockey Edwin Maldonado is not bashful to use his mounts’ speed. Riveting Reason has won 1 of 17. If he keeps the favorite company, the race could fall apart in favor of Shaun Washington, Tres Borrachos, or Jaycito.

Jaycito won the Grade 1 Norfolk at age 2 for trainer Mike Mitchell, but his development stalled as an older horse. Bob Baffert now trains the 4-year-old, whose problematic feet have prevented an extended campaign.

He has won 2 of 10 and drops from a seventh-place finish in the Grade 1 Pacific Classic. The meet’s leading jockey, Joe Talamo, is aboard.

Tres Borrachos has not won the since upsetting the Grade 2 San Diego Handicap in July 2011 at Del Mar. Marty Jones trains the 4-for-41 gelding, whose $949,543 earnings tops the field. The 7-year-old Tres Borracho will be ridden by Garrett Gomez.

The youngest and least accomplished starter happens also to have the most upside. If the 3-year-old Shaun Washington transfers his synthetic-surface speed figures to dirt, he can upset for trainer Jerry Hollendorfer and jockey Rafael Bejarano.

Shaun Washington and Jaycito are eligible to second-level allowance races; Riveting Reason is eligible to the first condition.