02/15/2012 2:24PM

Santa Anita: Points Offthebench returns in prep for Echo Eddie Stakes

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ARCADIA, Calif. – It is the last Saturday in March that has become the immediate springtime focus for the owners and trainers of California-bred 3-year-olds.

The March 31 program at Santa Anita includes the first running of the $200,000 Echo Eddie Stakes for California-bred 3-year-olds over 6 1/2 furlongs, a race that is part of the newly formed Golden State Series.

“It’s definitely on our calendar,” trainer Tim Yakteen said.

Yakteen trains Points Offthebench, a maiden race winner at Del Mar last summer who starts in an optional claimer over 6 1/2 furlongs for California-breds in Friday’s second race. The optional claimer, which drew a field of six, is a prep for the Echo Eddie and will be Points Offthebench’s first start since Aug. 25.

He emerged from that race with a sore shin and a splint bone injury that required a break, Yakteen said.

“It was a combination of little things,” Yakteen said of the layoff. “He’s recovered really well.”

A full brother to the 4-year-old multiple stakes winner Bench Points, Points Offthebench is owned by a partnership. By Benchmark, Points Offthebench was third in his career debut at Del Mar on Aug. 7, his only start before the Aug. 25 win. Yakteen is hopeful that Points Offthebench can show enough in Friday’s optional claimer and the Echo Eddie to justify a start in the $300,000 Snow Chief Stakes for 3-year-old California-breds over 1 1/8 miles at Hollywood Park in late April.

“It’s nice we were able to get [this race] to go, because it sets up well, time-wise,” Yakteen said. “Until you try them a little farther, you don’t know how they’ll handle it, but he indicates to me that he will.”

Friday’s race features two stakes-placed runners – Exotic Slew, second in the California Breeders’ Champion Stakes on Dec. 26, and Three Vases, second in the Graduation Stakes in his career debut at Del Mar last August. Pop the Cork, Real Conundrum, and Spirit Rules are the other starters.

The speedy Three Vases returned to win a maiden race for California-breds over six furlongs here Jan. 7, his second career start. Trainer Robertino Diodoro said that Three Vases is best when allowed to lead.

“We tried to get him to sit off of it in the mornings, and he half sulks,” Diodoro said. “He doesn’t act like a speed horse. I think he’ll stretch out, but I don’t know how far.”