02/22/2013 5:39PM

Santa Anita: Stephanoatsee could like Big Cap distance

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ARCADIA, Calif. − When the 4-year-old Stephanoatsee closed steadily through the stretch to be second to Guilt Trip in the Grade 2 Strub Stakes at Santa Anita on Feb. 2, trainer Graham Motion decided where the colt would spend the late winter.

The performance justified the decision to leave Stephanoatsee in California for the $750,000 Santa Anita Handicap over 1 1/4 miles on March 2. The Grade 1 Big Cap will be Stephanoatsee’s first start at that distance and at that level. The distance is especially attractive to Motion.

“We don’t know if he’s a Grade 1 horse, but we’re sure he wants a mile and a quarter,” Motion said. “There aren’t that many opportunities at a mile and quarter.”

Friday, Stephanoatsee worked six furlongs at Santa Anita in 1:14.80.

“He’s not a flashy workhorse,” Motion said. “I think he’s done well here.”

Julien Leparoux was aboard Stephanoatsee in the Strub Stakes, and has the mount in the Big Cap. Stephanoatsee races for breeder My Meadowview Farm and has won 3 of 9 starts and $253,000. He won the Barbaro Stakes at Delaware Park last October.

In the Strub Stakes, Stephanoatsee closed from last in a field of six to finish 1 1/2 lengths behind Guilt Trip, another Big Cap hopeful.

“He had to run well enough to stay here and take a shot,” Motion said. “I think he did.”

Guilt Trip is trained by Bob Baffert, who will start the favorite in Game On Dude, a 6-year-old who won the 2011 Big Cap. Other candidates are Called to Serve, Clubhouse Ride, Handsome Mike, John Scott, Richard’s Kid, and Ron the Greek.

Ron the Greek is the defending champion and won the Sunshine Millions Classic on Jan. 19. Tritap, fifth in the Strub, was nominated but is not expected to start.

Friday, the two Big Cap hopefuls trained by Doug O’Neill worked six furlongs – Handsome Mike in 1:11.80 and Richard’s Kid in 1:13.80.

The fastest six-furlong work on Friday was posted by the O’Neill-trained 3-year-old Goldencents, who was timed in 1:10.40. Goldencents is a top contender for the $300,000 San Felipe Stakes over 1 1/16 miles on March 9.

Qiaona in tough allowance spot

Qiaona, the upset winner of the $300,000 California Breeders’ Champion Stakes for California-bred fillies Jan. 26, starts in a $58,000 allowance race over a mile Sunday. Despite the massive difference in purse, Sunday’s race is not an easy spot for Qiaona.

A former maiden claimer, Qiaona must beat the exciting maiden race winner Branding, who will start favored in the field of six. Trained by Tom Proctor, Branding won a seven-furlong maiden race by 2 1/2 lengths Jan. 12. Jockey Gary Stevens rode Branding in the maiden race and has the mount Sunday.

Trainer Ed Moger Jr. said Thursday that Qiaona has the $200,000 Evening Jewel Stakes over 6 1/2 furlongs March 30 as a goal, but he has not ruled out a start in the $300,000 Santa Anita Oaks, a Grade 1 for 3-year-old fillies on April 6.

“I think you have to go race by race,” Moger said. “I hope she runs like she did in her last race. I hope that she can continue to improve so we can get into other races.”

Bright Thought set for San Luis Rey

Bright Thought will make his stakes debut in the $150,000 San Luis Rey Stakes over 1 1/2 miles on turf March 16 after winning his second consecutive race in an optional claimer over 1 1/4 miles on turf Thursday.

Ridden by leading rider Rafael Bejarano, Bright Thought ($5) led throughout and won by 5 1/4 lengths in the quick time of 1:57.86. The course record of 1:57.16 was set by Red Giant in 2008.

Owned by a partnership that includes breeder Alex Venneri, Bright Thought, 4, is trained by Jorge Gutierrez.

Bright Thought finished first for the third consecutive race Thursday. He won an allowance race at Penn National in January but was later disqualified for a medication violation, Gutierrez said.

Gutierrez did not train Bright Thought at the time. The colt was with his stable last summer, sent east to race for part of the winter, and was sent back to California in late January, winning a starter handicap over a mile on turf on Feb. 3.

Eblouissante puts in half-mile work

Eblouissante, the undefeated 4-year-old half-sister to 2010 Horse of the Year Zenyatta, worked a half-mile in 50.60 seconds at Betfair Hollywood Park on Friday, her first workout since Jan. 12.

Trained by John Shirreffs, Eblouissante has won two starts, including an optional claimer here Jan. 17. She was found to have a bruised foot after the race and that disrupted her training.

Shirreffs said earlier this week that he is hopeful Eblouissante can make her stakes debut in the $300,000 Santa Margarita Stakes over 1 1/8 miles March 16.