10/27/2011 5:09PM

Santa Anita: Unzip Me gets easier spot at home in California Cup Distaff

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Benoit & Associates
Unzip Me, with Rafael Bejarano riding, wins the Daisycutter at Del Mar.

ARCADIA, Calif. – Unzip Me was held out of a trip to Churchill Downs for the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint on Nov. 5 in favor of Saturday’s $125,000 California Cup Distaff at Santa Anita.

The decision by the partners who own the mare and trainer Marty Jones was based on racing opportunities and the convenience of racing in Southern California. The Distaff, which is run over about 6 1/2 furlongs on the hillside turf course, is an easier spot.

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It is not a free spot for Unzip Me, who faces 13 rivals in the final race on Saturday’s nine-race program.

“This just seemed like a lot easier process,” Jones said earlier this week, describing the decision to stay home.

A 5-year-old mare, Unzip Me has won eight stakes in turf sprints and 12 of 22 starts for $818,228. Back in 2009, in her first turf sprint, Unzip Me was a troubled fifth in the Cal Cup Distaff. She missed the race last year with a good excuse – she finished third in the BC Turf Sprint against males at Churchill Downs a week later.

This year, Unzip Me has won half of her six starts, including two stakes on Santa Anita’s hillside turf course. But in her last start, she was fourth, beaten a length, in the Grade 3 Sen. Ken Maddy Stakes on the hillside on Sept. 30. Unzip Me was near a fast pace throughout and never reached the front.

“She had kind of a rough trip last time,” Jones said. “She never got a breather in that race. Hopefully, she’ll have a better trip.”

A measure of luck is needed anytime 14 horses are assembled for races on the hillside turf course. Fortunately for jockey Rafael Bejarano, Unzip Me’s regular rider, his mount is capable of racing on or near the lead and staying clear of traffic that can plague closers.

Sugarinthemorning, who drew the rail, has a similar style. Trained by Ron McAnally, Sugarinthemorning is in the midst of her best season, with three wins in five starts. She won the Manhattan Beach Stakes for turf sprinters at Hollywood Park in June and the Fleet Treat Stakes for statebred 3-year-old fillies on the synthetic main track at Del Mar in August.

Sugarinthemorning finished second to Great Hot in the Torrey Pines Stakes over a mile at Del Mar on Sept. 4, a loss that looked better after Great Hot won the Grade 2 Raven Run Stakes at Keeneland last weekend.

The break between the Torrey Pines and the Cal Cup Distaff gives McAnally further confidence.

“She’s pretty fit,” he said. “She does a lot better with space between her races. It gets gas back in the tank.

“I think she has a good chance. She’s training really well and has always been a good work filly.”

There are four other stakes winners in the field – Antares World, California Nectar, Strawberry Tart, and Waveline. Trainer Steve Specht said Antares World may miss the race because of a bruised foot detected Thursday.

California Nectar won her only turf sprint, an optional claimer over five furlongs on turf at Del Mar. This will be her first start on the hillside turf course.

“On her best day, I think she fits with any of them,” trainer Doug O’Neill said.