01/31/2012 4:08PM

Santa Anita: Strub start the first dirt test for Ultimate Eagle

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Benoit & Associates
Ultimate Eagle, with Martin Pedroza riding, wins the Hollywood Derby.

ARCADIA, Calif. – Eight races into his career, the 4-year-old colt Ultimate Eagle will be tried at something different in Saturday’s $200,000 Strub Stakes at Santa Anita. He will make his first start on a dirt track.

Ultimate Eagle began his career last April, starting too late for a race during the 2010-11 season on Santa Anita’s dirt track. Last spring, he lost three starts on Hollywood Park’s synthetic main surface before being switched to turf, where he reeled off four straight wins.

The streak included victories in the Grade 2 Oak Tree Derby on turf at Santa Anita in October, in a 34-1 upset, and the Grade 1 Hollywood Derby on turf in November, in a 14-1 upset. The streak ended with a third-place finish in the Grade 2 Sir Beaufort Stakes behind Mr. Commons on Dec. 26.

Ultimate Eagle has trained on Santa Anita’s main track, notably last fall.

Aside from the transfer to a dirt track, the Strub Stakes itself will be a test for Ultimate Eagle. Run over 1 1/8 miles for 4-year-olds, the race is led by the front-running Tapizar, the winner of the Grade 2 San Fernando Stakes over 1 1/16 miles on Jan. 14. Tapizar has never won beyond 1 1/16 miles, while Ultimate Eagle has won at 1 1/4 miles, in the Hollywood Derby.

Trainer Mike Pender fears a speed duel could develop between Tapizar and Ultimate Eagle, and says he will leave the tactical decisions to jockey Martin Pedroza on Ultimate Eagle after the start.

“I think we’ll cancel each other out if we both go,” Pender said. “Someone will have to be smart. It all depends on the break.”

The race has a probable field of six, including Balladry and Prayer for Relief, who were second and third behind Tapizar in the San Fernando; Clubhouse Ride, second to Tapizar in the 2011 Sham Stakes; and the 2011 sprint stakes winner Indian Winter.