10/23/2012 1:57PM

Santa Anita: Smokey Lonesome figures to put in usual top effort in Thursday headliner

Benoit & Associates
Smokey Lonesome enters the Thursday feature with a 6-for-19 record.

ARCADIA, Calif. – Santa Anita will be the focus of the racing world over the next two weeks as the 2012 Breeders’ Cup on Nov. 2-3 bears down.

The build-up begins with the beginning of the race week Thursday, when a working-class group of sprinters race 6 1/2 furlongs on the downhill turf course in the race-7 feature, a second-level optional $62,500 claimer led by the consistent and reliable veteran Smokey Lonesome.

Smokey Lonesome has won 6 of 19 and might have entered with a three-race win streak except for bad luck that cost him a fair chance last out in a similar turf sprint. Blocked and steadied crossing the dirt while the eventual winner Circa’sgoldengear got first run, Smokey Lonesome finished well but missed by 1 1/4 lengths.

Ron Ellis trains Smokey Lonesome, who is reunited Thursday with the meet’s leading jockey, Joe Talamo. He rode Circa’sgoldengear to victory over Smokey Lonesome last out. When Talamo and Smokey Lonesome get together, it is usually a good thing. Smokey Lonesome’s five most recent wins were under Talamo.

Eight colts and geldings entered the $53,000 race. One of the main rivals to the favorite is lightly raced Sweet Swap, a 3-year-old full brother to Grade 1 winner Sidney’s Candy who is moving through his conditions. Sweet Swap has two wins from four starts, all for trainer John Sadler, including a sharp first-level allowance win last out over the course. Two horses he beat returned to win next out.

Contenders also include front-runner Truest Legend, seemingly past his prime. But the race Thursday is his first in two months, and he does fire fresh. Truest Legend and jockey Tyler Baze are likely to have the lead turning for home. With the turf rails up at their outermost 30-foot setting, the Jeff Mullins-trained speedster has a longshot chance.

Clubhouse Ride has been a study in frustration most of his career, even though the graded-stakes-placed 4-year-old was briefly on the Kentucky Derby trail in 2011. Since his most recent win in fall 2010, he has 13 starts with no wins, two seconds, and seven thirds. Last time out, he finished a length behind Smokey Lonesome.

As for Smokey Lonesome, the 6-year-old gelding began his career for the late trainer Richard Matlow before moving to trainer Art Sherman.

Ellis claimed him from a win in a $40,000 claimer in July and won first off the claim for $50,000 before Smokey Lonesome’s troubled-trip runner-up finish four weeks ago.

Other starters in the turf sprint include Streamside, a shipper from Northern California; St Liams Halo, a shipper from Hastings Park; Royal F J, a sharp winner over the course; and Red Defense, sixth last out.