02/21/2012 12:52PM

Santa Anita: Elana Mar has plenty of upside in turf mile


ARCADIA, Calif. – Turf racing at Santa Anita often is scaled back during February and March, historically the two wettest months on the California calendar.

But an unseasonably dry winter has allowed Santa Anita to use the grass course for 30 percent of its races already during the 2011-12 meet, a theme that continues Thursday. Four of the eight races are on grass, including three one-mile races in the pick six.

The turf rails are scheduled to be moved Thursday from 15 feet to the outermost 30-foot setting, the same configuration Elana Mar faced when she rallied to a sharp maiden-race comeback victory one month ago.

Elana Mar is one of six statebred allowance fillies and mares entered in race 3, with Sunburn expected to start favored based on consistent form and a potential pace advantage.

With only two starts, Elana Mar is the least experienced in the field. That means she also has the most upside. Whereas many of her rivals have stalled (Sunburn has lost five at the level), Elana Mar is just getting started.

Trainer Bruce Headley is co-owner-breeder of Elana Mar, who returned from a seven-month layoff with a sharp maiden win Jan. 19. Elana Mar ran her final quarter in 23.18 seconds under David Flores; a similar finishing kick Thursday puts her in the hunt.

Based on final time however, Sunburn holds the advantage. Two races after Elana Mar won a Jan. 19 maiden race, Sunburn finished a close fourth in a mile turf race. Her final time (1:35.07) was .67 faster than Elana Mar (1:35.74).

Sean McCarthy trains Sunburn, who can set or press the pace in a field short on speed. Rafael Bejarano rides Sunburn. Other entrants include 1-for-16 California Heat, 2-for-32 Arrivderci Caro, first-time turf Shezabigbroad, and Bench Beauty.

Race 5 is a starter allowance for 3-year-old fillies at a mile on turf, and Dustin’s Magic should like the surface. Sired by Grand Slam, she is out of a Dynaformer mare. Rivals include comeback stretch-out Warren’s Amber and Unusual Hottie, an Unusual Heat filly that also should like grass.

Race 7 is a $50,000 turf claimer at a mile. Back-class Matto Mondo will try to become the first horse this meet to win three. He won a $32,000 claimer Dec. 31, followed by a $40,000 claimer Jan. 27 from which he was tagged by trainer-owner Steve Asmussen.

A repeat of that 1:33.50 clocking (second fastest of the meet) would make the 8-year-old gelding tough to beat. His main rivals include Times Gone By and Reach a Decision.