01/03/2012 2:42PM

Santa Anita: Compari looms large, but Sandor a threat

Benoit & Associates
Compari, with Garrett Gomez riding, wins the Arcadia in 2010.

ARCADIA, Calif. – Big turf stakes are on the itinerary for graded winner Compari, the feature-race favorite making his second start back Thursday at Santa Anita.

At one mile on grass, the $65,000 allowance is perfect for a gelding who finished a bang-up second in his comeback sprint six weeks ago. “He’s better going a mile,” trainer Marty Jones said. “He can use his speed to his advantage.”

Compari, 4 for 5 on the Santa Anita turf, enters Thursday with only one knock – price. Compari is the 9-5 favorite on track linemaker Jon White’s early line.

Fortunately, bettors may consider an attractive alternative in European import Sandor. Trained by Carla Gaines, Sandor may have been best finishing second in an outstanding U.S. debut one month ago, a one-mile race won by Thursday entrant El Gato Malo.

Compari and Sandor are the principals Thursday in the seventh-race feature that could strengthen the winter turf-mile series at Santa Anita that includes the Grade 2 Arcadia Stakes on Feb. 3 and Grade 1 Frank E. Kilroe Mile on March 4.

Compari, a California-bred 6-year-old with $459,730 in earnings, is the top earner sired by Redattore. Compari also is on a growing list of winners produced by his dam, Southern Charm. Those include Smarmy Charm, South Coast, and Jan. 2 maiden winner Dixieland Blues.

“Everything out of that mare has been real competitive,” Jones said. “That mare, she’s golden.”

So is Compari, her most accomplished son. He has won 6 of 12, including the Grade 2 Arcadia and $100,000 Crystal Water for in 2010. Jones has considered another shot at a similar campaign, if all goes well Thursday.

“Maybe the Arcadia and Kilroe, if things went well,” Jones said. “We’ll just have to see how this race goes.”

Jones expects a top effort by Compari, whose recent May-to-November layoff was because of a splint problem. Rafael Bejarano rides Compari, the best horse in the Thursday field stretching out following a good second behind outstanding turf sprinter Mr Gruff.

Meanwhile, the promising European import Sandor makes his second U.S. start for Gaines after a U.S. debut that unfolded wrong for jockey Victor Espinoza. For the first six furlongs, the trip was perfect. Espinoza and Sandor saved ground on the inside.

But racing luck intervened, and Sandor got buried. “I got stuck behind a slow horse,” Espinoza said. “I had to wait, and wait, and wait, and came out a little bit late. He ran an unbelievable race, and he was running at the end.”

Everything that Espinoza said is validated by the video replay. Sandor got stuck behind slow horses passing the quarter pole, shuffled from third to last, was blocked into the lane, hopelessly eliminated, yet somehow rallied to finish second.

The outcome might have been different for Sandor. “I could have won that race,” Espinoza said. “Sometimes, that’s what happens. You track the horse you think is going to kick on, and they slow down in front of you. You go from third, to last.”

A potential knock on Sandor is the possibility of regression, second start back from a layoff. That seems unlikely. He was a fit horse going in, and two good recent breezes since then include a 59-second bullet work Dec. 30.

Sandor was a good handicap-class horse in Europe, where he won 3 of 23 while competing in good races with good purses and big fields. Sandor fits Thursday on class and ability.

Compari, Sandor and El Gato Malo are the principals. Other runners include Leroy’s Dynameaux, Details R Sketchy, Posse Power, Make Music for Me, Violon Sacre, Willyconker, and Buenos Dias.