09/30/2011 12:36PM

Santa Anita: Weemissfrankie should appreciate longer distance of Oak Leaf

Benoit & Associates
Weemissfrankie will stretch out to 1 1/16 miles for Sunday's Oak Leaf.

ARCADIA, Calif. – Dollars and dreams are at stake Sunday at Santa Anita, where 10 2-year-old fillies with Breeders’ Cup ambitions race 1 1/16 miles in the Grade 1 Oak Leaf Stakes.

Weemissfrankie is the likely favorite, and her trainer, Pete Eurton, will not look beyond this weekend. Dream, yes. Plan ahead, not yet.

“I’m looking at Sunday, and hoping for November,” Eurton said. “Sunday is like a stopover.”

Sunday is huge. The Oak Leaf is a Win and-You’re In Breeders’ Cup Challenge race; the winner’s BC entry fees are waived and a travel allowance paid. Combined with the winner’s share of the $250,000 Oak Leaf purse, a win is worth more than $220,000.

BREEDERS’ CUP CHALLENGE: Racing schedule, replays, and past winners >>

For most Oak Leaf entrants, the question is distance. Eurton sees 1 1/16 miles as a benefit for Weemissfrankie, whose two starts at Del Mar included a debut maiden win and a going-away victory in the Grade 1 Del Mar Debutante at seven furlongs.

“You’ve seen her gallop-outs, right?” Eurton said. “They tell me she wants to go farther. I think more distance will actually help her.”

Weemissfrankie galloped out far in front of the field after the wire of the Debutante. Sunday, she drew post 8 in a 10-horse field, and bettors seeking an alternative to the chalk will find many suitable options.

The principals include Silent Saga, sixth with trouble in the Del Mar Debutante; Self Preservation, the Debutante runner-up; along with 2-for-2 Candrea and possible pacesetter Dreamcaster, both trained by seven-time Oak Leaf winner Bob Baffert.

The deep field also includes stakes winner Killer Graces; shipper My Gi Gi, recent runner-up in a one-mile turf stakes at Louisiana Downs; Wild Truffles, fourth in the Debutante; maiden winner Regal Betty, the only starter who has won at a mile; and dominating maiden sprint winner Charm the Maker.

Weemissfrankie is by first-crop sire Sunriver, a turf horse, and raced twice on synthetic, but Eurton does not see dirt as an issue.

“Everything tells us she likes the dirt,” he said. “In her works, she gets over this surface without a hiccup. I haven’t seen any change.”

The only knock on Weemissfrankie is out of her control – odds. Weemissfrankie is expected to start favored, while Silent Saga could slip under the radar. Trained by Myung Kwon Cho and assistant Maria Ayala, Silent Saga finished third in her debut, scored a sharp maiden win second time out, and then had a nightmare trip in the Debutante.

“Nobody noticed the trouble,” Ayala said.

It was severe. Silent Saga was blocked behind a wall of horses from the five-sixteenth to the eighth pole, never had a chance to run, then got bogged down late on the inside. She finished sixth, beaten just 3 1/2 lengths.

Where she could have finished with a clean trip is unknown, as is her ability to stay 1 1/16 miles.

“I like the distance for her,” Ayala said. “I follow what Mr. Cho says … longer gallops. I am not training her hard, I am training her long.”

Victor Espinoza is back aboard Silent Saga, a daughter of Silent Name and an upset candidate with a clean trip.

Candrea and Dreamcaster are trained by Bob Baffert, who admits he was less than thrilled with their workouts on Sept. 26. Candrea, whose 85 Beyer Speed Figure last out tops the field, went six furlongs in 1:5.60; Dreamcaster went in 1:13.40.

“They didn’t work that well, but they were by themselves,” Baffert said. “They worked so-so.”

The Oak Leaf is race 8 on a nine-race card.