01/03/2013 2:19PM

Santa Anita: Ultimate Eagle using San Pasqual as prep for Big Cap

Benoit & Associates
Ultimate Eagle returns to the track on which he dominated the Strub last year (above).

ARCADIA, Calif. – Ultimate Eagle had a diverse range of results in the early months of 2012 at Santa Anita. He won the Grade 2 Strub Stakes by 7 1/2 lengths Feb. 4, but was 10th as the 2-1 favorite in the Santa Anita Handicap on March 2.

The goal this winter is to avoid such variations.

A 5-year-old, Ultimate Eagle starts in the $150,000 San Pasqual Handicap at Santa Anita on Saturday, a race that trainer Mike Pender and owner B.J. Wright plan to use as a prep for the $750,000 Santa Anita Handicap on March 2.

“Last year was a disaster,” Pender said of the Big Cap. “We have a hunch his 5-year-old season will be his best year.”

In the 2012 Strub, Ultimate Eagle led throughout. In the Big Cap, he was challenged on the lead and faded after setting a fast pace. He was rested through the spring and summer and started once in the fall, finishing a game second in the Grade 2 Citation Handicap on turf at Betfair Hollywood Park on Nov. 23.

“There wasn’t any other race to get him going,” Pender said.

For the Grade 2 San Pasqual, which is run over 1 1/16 miles on the main track, Pender said that Ultimate Eagle may not have the lead.

“We’ve been trying to get him to relax,” Pender said. “I think he’ll show a new dimension down the road. I think he can be very tactical. I don’t know if that will happen in the San Pasqual.

“It will be interesting to see how things develop on the front end.”

There could be pace pressure from Hoorayforhollywood and Coil,two of four starters in a field of nine trained by Bob Baffert. Baffert also starts Jaycito, winner of the Grade 1 Norfolk Stakes in 2010, and Bank the Eight, a minor stakes winner in Maryland in 2010.

The San Pasqual will be Coil’s final start before going to stud at Magali Farms in Santa Ynez, Calif. Coil, best known for winning the 2011 Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park, was third in the Cigar Mile at Aqueduct on Nov. 24 and seventh in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint here on Nov. 3.

On the same day, John Scott finished fourth of nine in the BC Dirt Mile, racing wide for much of the race.

“He didn’t break in that race and he lost a lot of ground,” trainer Carla Gaines said.

Later in November, Gaines received a photo via email of John Scott running through the stretch of the BC Dirt Mile. The picture shows the horse’s face covered in dirt with his right eye closed. Gaines said John Scott emerged from the race with a scratch on that eye, but nothing that required treatment.

“He couldn’t see,” Gaines said. “The whole field kicked dirt in his face.”

John Scott has won 5 of 7 starts on synthetic tracks, but is winless in three starts on dirt, the surface at Santa Anita. Gaines thinks that John Scott can run well Saturday over the track where her stable is based.

“There are four Bob Baffert horses in there,” Gaines said. “It’s not an easy race, but my horse is a nice horse.”