01/10/2013 2:56PM

Santa Anita: O'Neill optimistic Handsome Mike will run better in San Fernando


ARCADIA, Calif. – Handsome Mike’s upset win in the Pennsylvania Derby last September looked like a fluke after he was comprehensively beaten in the Breeders’ Cup Classic and Hollywood Derby in November.

Trainer Doug O’Neill hopes to show that Handsome Mike is better than those results when the colt makes his 4-year-old debut in Saturday’s $150,000 San Fernando Stakes at Santa Anita. O’Neill blames himself for Handsome Mike’s ninth-place finish in the BC Classic here on Nov. 3 and a 10th in the Hollywood Derby on Nov. 25.

“He left me overconfident and I didn’t train him as well as I could have,” O’Neill said. “He wasn’t trained to do what we were asking him to do. I backed off him a little bit and he was probably 80 percent for the derby and that didn’t work.”

The Grade 2 San Fernando is run over 1 1/16 miles, and has drawn a field of 10 4-year-olds. The race could have fewer starters. Trainer Bob Baffert has four entrants – Fed Biz, Guilt Trip, Mile High Magic, and Sky Kingdom. He said on Thursday that all four could run, but that a few could be withdrawn.

Handsome Mike races for Paul and Zillah Reddam and has won 2 of 12 starts and $756,780. A colt by Scat Daddy, Handsome Mike has the highest earnings of the runners in the San Fernando.

The San Fernando will be Handsome Mike’s 11th consecutive stakes appearance, dating back to a second in the Grade 3 Generous Stakes at Betfair Hollywood Park in November 2011. The Pennsylvania Derby is the colt’s only stakes win.

O’Neill’s confidence stems from the way he has trained Handsome Mike in recent weeks, particularly six furlongs from the gate in 1:12 here on Dec. 22.

“He’s had a couple of solid gate drills and he seems ready to fire,” O’Neill said. “The shortening will help him find his form.”

The distance may be an issue for Tritap, a lightly raced colt trained by Steve Asmussen. Tritap won an allowance race over 1 3/16 miles at Churchill Downs in November.

“I’m definitely concerned about the cutback in distance,” Asmussen said earlier this week.

Tritap has yet to win a stakes, and was sixth in his stakes debut in the Grade 2 Indiana Derby at Hoosier Park on Oct. 6. Asmussen said he has been pleased with the way Tritap has worked at Santa Anita, notably a six-furlong workout in 1:12 on Dec. 23.

Baffert’s quartet is led by Fed Biz, who won the El Cajon Stakes at Del Mar last August. Third in the Indiana Derby, Fed Biz has struggled since, finishing eighth in the BC Dirt Mile and sixth in the Grade 1 Malibu Stakes over seven furlongs on Dec. 26.

Fed Biz was fractious in the gate before the Malibu, an incident that concerns Baffert.

“He got really mad in the gate,” Baffert said. “He hadn’t done that before.

“He’s a very talented horse. Of all them in there, he’s the most talented. In the mornings, he works like a Grade 1 horse.”