10/25/2011 12:54PM

Santa Anita: Spirit Seeker stands out, with a caveat

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ARCADIA, Calif. – At face value, Spirit Seeker’s third consecutive dirt-surface victory makes her a veritable standout in an optional claimer that highlights a sleepy card Thursday at Santa Anita.

However, extenuating circumstances Oct. 13 cast doubt on the validity of Spirit Seeker’s recent front-running victory in the mile race for $20,000 claiming fillies and mares. The air temperature was 99 degrees, track maintenance crews increased the application of water, and the main track produced a series of rail-skimming winners.

That day, Spirit Seeker set the pace on the rail with the perceived bias in her favor. She led gate to wire as the odds-on favorite, her eighth win from 26 starts. She earned a 91 Beyer Speed Figure that makes her tough Thursday moving up in class.

The handicapping dilemma is to know how far the track moved her up, if at all. Perhaps, Spirit Seeker won two weeks ago simply because she was the best horse in the race. But if a genuine bias was in play, then Spirit Seeker might not repeat the performance.

Jerry Hollendorfer trains Spirit Seeker, a 5-year-old mare whose seven previous victories include performances in which she earned higher figures than last out. Spirit Seeker, who has been up and down the ladder, enters Thursday with conspicuously upward form.

Rafael Bejarano rides Spirit Seeker, who is expected to set or press the pace Thursday in the first-level allowance/optional $40,000 claimer at one mile. If she runs as well in cool weather as she did last out in hot, the daughter of Peace Rules could be gone again.

But if it turns out that Spirit Seeker is not as good as her most recent win makes her look, then several of her nine rivals have a shot to upset, including class-drop comebacker Smart Striking.

Simon Callaghan trains Smart Striking, whose six U.S. starts produced a pair of thirds. But those turf races were against tougher – two stakes and four second-level allowance races. A 4-year-old Smart Strike filly, Smart Striking drops into a first-level allowance for the first time in the United States, and if she takes to dirt, she can upset under Mike Smith.

Trouble-prone Chokecherymary figures close, while sharp She’s Very Rare tries another class hike after winning her last two starts for $10,000 claiming and $40,000 claiming for statebreds.

Other starters include Izshelegal, Party With Brando Moreno’s Mon, Frigid Bridget, Sambora, and Ambitoness.