12/27/2012 2:12PM

Santa Anita: Great Mills hopes to gain elusive first graded stakes win in Daytona


ARCADIA, Calif. – Great Mills has won the Grindstone Stakes, the Quick Call Stakes, and the Champion Energy Service Stakes in his 19-race career.

What is missing is a win in a graded stakes, though not for a lack of trying. Great Mills has started in nine graded stakes, and finished second three times and third once.

“He’s looked like a winner about two jumps from the wire about four times,” trainer Steve Asmussen said.

Frustrations aside, Great Mills is battle-tested, which makes his presence in Saturday’s $100,000 Daytona Stakes over about 6 1/2 furlongs on the hillside turf course at Santa Anita all the more intriguing. The Grade 3 Daytona Stakes will be Great Mills’s first race since running fourth, beaten three lengths, in the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint here on Nov. 3.

In the Daytona, Great Mills drew the rail in a field of 12. He should be on the lead.

“I’m sure he’ll go,” Asmussen said. “He’s got one gear.”

The race is expected to have 10 starters. Byrama, the stakes-winning 3-year-old filly, is likely to be withdrawn and pointed for the $150,000 Monrovia Stakes on Jan. 6. Capital Account will not start if the race stays on turf, trainer Bob Baffert said.

Great Mills made his first start on the hillside turf course in the BC Turf Sprint. He was second by a head with a furlong remaining but could not keep pace late. Earlier this year, Great Mills was second by a nose in the Grade 3 Shakertown Stakes at Keeneland, and third, by a head, in the Turf Monster Handicap at Parx Racing at Philadelphia Park.

Asmussen wants firm ground for Saturday, and should get it. Rain fell early Wednesday but was not expected through Saturday.

“I think the ground matters,” he said. “I think he runs better on firm turf. He runs good at the start of every meeting – Keeneland or Churchill – before [the turf courses] get chewed up.”

Owned by breeder Millennium Farms, Great Mills will be ridden by Rafael Bejarano, who won four races on Wednesday’s opening day, including two stakes. Bejarano was aboard Great Mills in the BC Turf Sprint.

Great Mills may be part of a strong pace. Comma to the Top, a five-time stakes winner, will be close to the front early. Trained by Peter Miller, Comma to the Top can surpass $1 million in career earnings with a win in the Daytona.

Comma to the Top won the Big Bear Handicap over a mile on dirt here in October, and was fourth in the Grade 3 Eddie D Stakes on the hillside turf course in September.

“He should be up close,” Miller said. “The horse has won at a mile and a mile and a sixteenth. He’s won on the grass going short.”

Miller said that Comma to the Top had an eye infection when fourth in the Grade 3 Vernon Underwood Stakes at Betfair Hollywood Park on Dec. 3, but has shown improvement this month.

“They’re slow to heal,” he said. “We think we have it under control.”

A quick pace would help Wilkinson, unraced since winning the Grade 2 American Handicap at Hollywood Park in May. He was sidelined after colic surgery in the summer, but has trained well in recent weeks, trainer Jeff Mullins said earlier this week. The Daytona will be the shortest race of Wilkinson’s career, which includes 5 wins in 18 starts.