02/18/2010 12:00AM

Santa Anita roundup

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AT LAST, THE MEET BEGINS

It took two months, but the winter meet that began Dec. 26 at Santa Anita finally came to life in a series of stakes Feb. 13 won by Caracortado, who leaped to the top of the 3-year-old division; Blind Luck, who won her comeback; and St Trinians, whose exciting win against females stamped her as a player in none other than the Santa Anita Handicap.

Caracortado and jockey Paul Atkinson made it 5 for 5 with the most impressive win of the season by a Derby hopeful. He won the going away with a 97 Beyer, emerging as the top 3-year-old on the circuit for now. Lookin at Who?

Blind Luck won her comeback by a nose, and though the Beyer came back an 87, give her credit. Blind Luck overcame slow fractions (48.41 and 1:12.59) on a surface increasingly kind to speed and ran her final quarter in 22.40 seconds to win the . Blind Luck might not be a slam dunk March 6 in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Oaks, but the rest of the division is anonymous. Who is the second favorite for the Oaks, anyway?

As for the handicap division, it remains a mess. Misremembered finished a disappointing second in the , losing by 1 1/4 lengths to Jeranimo. That left open the door for the Grade 2 Santa Maria winner St Trinians, whose ambitious plan is to take on the boys - what's left of them, anyway - in the Santa Anita Handicap.

While victories by Caracortado and St Trinians were the highlights, the biggest development during the Feb. 10-15 racing week was the transformation of the Santa Anita main track. The first 1 1/2 months of the meet, Pro-Ride was a deathtrap for speed. Last week, it was anything but.

The racetrack played quicker than any time this season - Sidney's Candy ran the fastest seven furlongs of the meet (1:20.91) when he won the in a blowout Feb. 15. Caracortado on Feb. 13 ran 1 1/16 miles in a meet-best 1:41.75, followed two races later by St Trinians's 1:41.73.

No fewer than 18 of the 21 Pro-Ride sprints were won by a horse within two lengths of the lead after the first quarter-mile; two of 10 main-track routes were won gate to wire. Perhaps the track-profile shift is due to higher quality of horses. Or perhaps Pro-Ride is beginning to deteriorate. With increased wear and tear on other synthetics, the final times often get faster and speed becomes increasingly valuable.

It is something to keep in mind as the winter meet builds momentum, finally.

WHO'S HOT

* The monkey is off trainer Mike Mitchell's back. Mitchell was mired in a graded-stakes funk that stretched back to summer 2008. The last 18 months, Mitchell was 1 for 43 in graded stakes, with 8 seconds and 6 thirds. His lone graded stakes win was Grazen in the Grade 3 Affirmed on June 20, 2009, at Hollywood Park.

Mitchell's drought ended Feb. 13. Kays and Jays won the Grade 3 Hurricane Bertie at Gulfstream Park; later at Santa Anita, St Trinians crushed the Grade 2 Santa Maria. Overall, Mitchell won 3 of 10 during the week. His Hiho Geronimo gets "Jackpot of the Week" honors for a $30 upset Feb. 10. Hiho Geronimo had two key changes. The program noted first-time gelding; the Daily Racing Form handicapping analysis included this passage: "HIHO GERONIMO has had corrective throat surgery to alleviate a breathing problem since his last start."

* Jerry Hollendorfer won two graded stakes - the Las Virgenes with Blind Luck and the with Tuscan Evening. John Sadler won the San Vicente with fast 3-year-old Sidney's Candy, and comebacker Dave in Dixie finished well for second in the Robert B. Lewis to join the Derby chase. Sadler entered the week tied with Bob Baffert at 18 wins.

* Dance With Gable has won 3 of 5 since being claimed for $40,000 last summer by trainer Mike Machowsky, including two wins on the downhill course. Dance With Gable won a strong N2X turf sprint Feb. 11 that makes him "Most Likely Repeater" when he runs next in a N3X or minor stakes. By the way, Machowsky also trains Caracortado.

* Rafael Bejarano is turning the jockey race into a runaway. Bejarano won eight races last week from 36 mounts and entered the week 47 for 197. Bejarano leads Victor Espinoza (31), Joel Rosario (29), and Garrett Gomez (27).

WHO'S NOT

* Momentum stalled for Baffert. Baffert won three races from 15 starters, but two big guns fell short - Misremembered ran second in the Strub at 7-10, Tiz Chrome finished fourth in the Lewis at even money. The highlight of Baffert's week was an easy victory by Macias in an overnight turf sprint stakes. Feel sorry for Baffert? Not yet. His $1.1 million in earnings through Feb. 15 leads the standings.

* Bilo won the Grade 1, seven-furlong Triple Bend in 2007. These days, he runs for a $10,000 tag and keeps getting beat at short prices. A 10-year-old gelding, Bilo ran second again Feb. 14, his fourth successive runner-up finish. Overall, he has won seven races and $535,236 from 23 starts.

CREAM OF CROP RANKINGS

Santa Anita Derby

1. Caracortado, 2. Lookin At Lucky, 3. Dave in Dixie, 4. Blind Luck, 5. Nextdoorneighbor, 6. Setsuko, 7. Make Music for Me, 8. Sidney's Candy, 9. American Lion, 10. Alphie's Bet.

Caracortado leaped to the top of the rankings with a big win in the Robert B. Lewis; Dave in Dixie finished strongly for second in the Lewis and moves up to No. 3. Blind Luck drops after a nose victory in the Las Virgenes; she will stay in the filly division. Sidney's Candy ran the fastest seven furlongs of the meet in the San Vicente and will stretch out for his next start.

The next Derby prep at Santa Anita is the Grade 3 Sham on Feb. 27. Possible starters include Nextdoorneighbor, Setsuko, Alphie's Bet, and Kettle River. The Grade 2 San Felipe on March 13 features the first start of the season for Lookin At Lucky; his main rival is the new king of the hill, Caracortado.

Santa Anita Handicap

1. Misremembered, 2. St Trinians, 3. Life Is Sweet, 4. Neko Bay, 5. Dakota Phone, 6. Philatelist, 7. Pick Six, 8. Tiger's Rock, 9. Jeranimo, 10. Acclamation.

Misremembered stays on top, barely, after a runner-up finish Feb. 13 in the Strub, which was his first start in seven weeks. The effort by Misremembered was disappointing by any measure, yet he earned a higher Beyer, 101, than St Trinians did the same day in the Santa Maria, a 98.

St Trinians had never raced in a graded stakes until the Santa Maria. Suddenly, she is considered one of the favorites for the Big Cap. St Trinians won the Santa Maria by 1 3/4 lengths over Life Is Sweet. Trainer Mike Mitchell said afterward St Trinians would face males in the $750,000 Big Cap on March 6 rather than face Zenyatta in the $250,000 Santa Margarita on March 13. The Big Cap option also is open for Life Is Sweet.

Zenyatta drops off the Big Cap list; she returns in the Santa Margarita. Todd Pletcher-trained Tiger's Rock, winner of two minor stakes on the Aqueduct inner track with Beyers of 93 and 94, may ship for the Big Cap. As for Strub winner Jeranimo, he may ship to Dubai.

HORSES TO WATCH

Indy Ride

Trainer: Jack Carava

Last race: Feb. 10, 4th

Finish: 3rd by 1

Racing over a track that compromised deep closers, this restricted claimer made up more than five lengths in the final eighth. After breaking last of 10 when his head was turned, he sliced through traffic late and probably could have won with a clean start. He can win a $12,500 claimer, nonwinners of two, next time.

Usually Super

Trainer: Carla Gaines

Last race: Feb. 12, 4th

Finish: 4th by 4

A maiden filly making her second start, this Unusual Heat filly ran super despite a tough trip. She raced inside and behind horses, steadied on the backstretch and again into the turn, and was blocked into the lane before tiring. She improved on her debut and looms a strong contender in an upcoming maiden race for statebred fillies.

Rumba Along

Trainer: Craig Dollase

Last race: Feb. 13, 7th

Finish: 6th by 2 3/4

This 5-year-old gelding had no shot in a restricted $32,000 claimer at a mile on turf. He got stuck behind tiring horses on the far turn, had to wait until the stretch to find a clean run, and by then it was too late. Reclaimed from Jack Carava by Dollase, he deserves another chance.

Closing Steps

Trainer: John Sadler

Last race: Feb. 14, 1st

Finish: 1st by 1/2

Improving filly handled several hurdles: first time vs. winners, first time grass, and first time long, to wire a maiden-40 starter allowance. While she benefited from the soft pace (48.81 and 1:13.30), she ran her final quarter-mile in 23.32 to win by a half-length. She fits right back in a first-level allowance.