03/02/2012 3:58PM

Santa Anita: Mr Gruff should have easier time in Joe Hernandez; pick six carryover is $430,582

Benoit & Associates
Mr Gruff, with Joel Rosario riding, wins the Night Mover.

ARCADIA, Calif. – The mad pace battle that foiled Mr Gruff last out is not likely to recur Sunday at Santa Anita, where the horse-for-turf-course sprinter is the deserving favorite in the $70,000 Joe Hernandez Handicap.

Sunday's card will feature a meet-high pick-six carryover of $430,582 as the bet went unhit both Friday and Saturday.

Although Mr Gruff has won 5 of 7 on the Santa Anita hill, trainer Ron Ellis sensed trouble Jan. 8 in the Grade 3 Daytona when rival Regally Ready went after Mr Gruff early.

“It was crazy, it was insane,” Ellis said. “I don’t blame my rider. The other rider was not going to the lead until he saw we were going to the lead. He rode it like a match race.”

Joel Rosario rode Mr Gruff. Corey Nakatani rode Regally Ready. They raced head and head, and opened up eight lengths before paying the price. Mr Gruff inched clear in midstretch, by which time they were spent. The two horses finished in a dead heat for third.

“He won the battle, and lost the war,” Ellis said, which is surprising because Mr Gruff usually wins them both. An 8-year-old gelding with 6 wins from 12 starts, Mr Gruff faces eight others Sunday in the Joe Hernandez.

“We get some class relief,” Ellis said. “And he should get better and better as he goes along.”

The Hernandez is the third start back for Mr Gruff, whose short-term goal is the Grade 3 San Simeon on April 21. His long-range goal is the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint. Mr Gruff is owned by Gary Broad.

His eight rivals include Pressday, Silver Summation, front-runners Chosen Miracle and Ain’t No Other, Mensa Heat, Gig Harbor, and Mobilized. The curiosity is Dancing in Silks, upset winner of the 2009 Breeders’ Cup Sprint but winless since. Dancing in Silks is now trained by Anthony Saavedra.

Mr Gruff is not expected to make an uncontested lead Sunday, but he runs well from a pressing position. With two comeback races under his belt after long layoff, Mr Gruff should be more willing to ration his speed.

The main threat for the favorite is Pressday, a Group 1 winner in Australia whose U.S. debut Feb. 9 was a good runner-up finish behind stablemate Carbonite. Trainer John Sadler expects Pressday to improve Sunday, and be prepared for a longer trip next time.

“I decided to go one more down the hill with him, then we’ll go long after this,” Sadler said. “He had a nice race first out, came back to work well, and I think he’ll be better second time out.”

Mike Smith takes over on Pressday, as Rosario stays with Mr Gruff. The 5-for-14 Pressday was defeated last time by Sadler-trained Carbonite. “He had two hard races, so we’re saving him for the San Simeon,” Sadler said, referring to Carbonite.

Silver Summation was cold in the betting Feb. 9, and finished fifth in his first start since November. He scratched Jan. 8 when he flipped and fell walking to the track. He may improve second start back.

Chosen Miracle and Ain’t No Other will provide pace pressure.