12/30/2011 2:11PM

Santa Anita: Tight field of six meets in Frankel


ARCADIA, Calif. – The female grass division in California often gets quiet in winter, and 2012 is no exception.

Grade 1 winners Star Billing, Harmonious, and Nereid do not return until spring for trainer John Shirreffs; top European imports Desert Poppy and Camelia Rose will not be rushed by Simon Callaghan, whose leading 2011 turf filly Dubawi Heights is retired.

In the meantime, a muddled field of six fillies and mares will contest the Grade 2, $150,000 Robert J. Frankel Stakes on Sunday at Santa Anita. At 1 1/8 miles on turf, the race is a good spot for likely favorites City to City and Turning Top.

Callaghan trains Turning Top, who has flirted with the division’s best but lost 10 straight since June 2010.

“She is a solid filly that just sort of misses out on the top grade,” he said. “She just falls short of the top fillies.”

Thankfully, the Frankel “is full of similar horses,” Callaghan said. Turning Top, who will be 6 years old Sunday, has won six races and $300,433 from 25 starts. And despite her 18-month losing streak, she figures as a top contender.

“She’s a Grade 3 winner, Grade 1-placed, and Grade-2 placed,” Callaghan said.

Turning Top will be ridden Sunday by David Flores in her first start since a fourth-place finish Oct. 1 in the Grade 1 Yellow Ribbon.

Based on close finishes last year against better, Turning Top will be among the favorites. But the race is puzzling because of a conspicuous absence of pace. None of the six entrants is a front-runner, although Turning Top has run well setting or pressing soft fractions.

A forwardly placed strategy is expected for her, whereas tactics are unclear for Bauble Queen, Whisper Louise, and two Ben Cecil trainees – Celestial Kitten and Miss Mittagong.

Jerry Hollendorfer trains likely favorite City to City, a six-time winner of $404,491 from 22 starts. When she is trapped inside, she does not fire, but when she gets outside, she is genuine. City to City is the only Grade 2 winner in the field.

Jockey Rafael Bejarano faces the task of getting her in the clear without losing too much ground.

“She won’t run on the inside,” assistant trainer Dan Ward said. “She needs to be outside.”

City to City finished fifth as the favorite last out, but her effort is easily excused. She was racing on a synthetic surface in a race won by the pacesetter and was inside for the final three-eighths. The race was not indicative of her actual ability.

Rafael Bejarano regains the mount on City to City, the most likely winner. A win by City to City would be the first in the race for Hollendorfer and Bejarano.

The Frankel was run as the San Gorgonio from 1976 through 2010. It was renamed last year in honor of the late Bobby Frankel, who won it eight times.

The female turf series at Santa Anita resumes Feb. 20 with the Grade 2 Buena Vista Handicap, a one-mile race Feb. 20.


Robert J. Frankel S. (G2), Post Time: 4:07 PT Sunday

Purse: $150,000; 1 1/8 miles (T)





ML Odds


Bauble Queen

J. Kruljac

G. Gomez


Celestial Kitten

B. Cecil

M. Smith


City To City

J. Hollendorfer

R. Bejarano


Turning Top (IRE)

S. Callaghan

D. Flores


Whisper Louise (IRE)

J. Cassidy

V. Espinoza


Miss Mittagong

B. Cecil

J. Rosario