02/02/2012 4:34PM

Santa Anita: Setsuko returns as a gelding in optional claimer

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ARCADIA, Calif. – Setsuko made a career of running well, but not winning, top races as a 3- and 4-year-old. Among his five stakes placings, Setsuko was second in the 2010 Santa Anita Derby and second in a roughly-run Santa Anita Handicap last year.

After a last-place finish in the Pacific Classic at Del Mar last summer, owner Alain Wertheimer and trainer Richard Mandella decided to geld Setsuko, after one victory in 16 career starts.

Setsuko resumes racing in an optional claimer over 1 1/16 miles in the 10th race at Santa Anita on Saturday. Mandella predicts better performances.

“I’m anxious to get him back to the races,” Mandella said. “He’s ready to make a good start back, but he’s not cranked up for his life. I expect him to run well.”

A win could lead to a start in the $750,000 Santa Anita Handicap on March 3, though Mandella downplayed that possibility on Thursday morning.

“This is only the first step,” he said. “I don’t want to plan it, build him up, and then be disappointed. Let’s see him run.”

Mandella could have opted to start Setsuko in Sunday’s $200,000 San Antonio Stakes for older horses. The race is led by Game On Dude, the runner-up in the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Churchill Downs last November, and the winner of the 2011 Santa Anita Handicap by a nose over Setsuko.

Saturday’s optional claimer drew a field of 11. Killer Bear, second at this level at Hollywood Park on Dec. 17, and Welcome Home Ryan and Industry Leader, second and third in a similar race here on Jan. 8, will merit support. The race is the first career start around two turns for American Blend, who won a maiden race impressively over 6 1/2 furlongs here on Dec. 26.

The idea of gelding Setsuko was made last summer by Wertheimer, following a third-place finish as the 3-2 favorite in the Grade 3 Cougar II Handicap over 1 1/2 miles at Del Mar in July. The hope for Wertheimer and Mandella is that Setsuko can have a successful 5-year-old season, leaving behind the frustrations brought on by close finishes in the past.

“Sometimes when you geld them, they get a little more focus,” Mandella said. “I’d like him to focus on getting to that winner’s circle a little more.”