04/15/2007 11:00PM

Shirreffs's confidence in Tiago grows


ARCADIA, Calif. - Tiago, the upset winner of the Santa Anita Derby on April 7, worked six furlongs in 1:13.20 at Hollywood Park on Monday, giving trainer John Shirreffs further confidence in the colt's chances for the Kentucky Derby on May 5.

"This was just a work to get him back into the routine," Shirreffs said. "He came out of the race very well - surprisingly well considering the level of competition. He hasn't backed off his feed and he went back to the track with a little bounce in his step."

Tiago worked alone, and went the first furlongs in 13 seconds and change, Shirreffs said.

"He worked pretty steady from there," he said.

Tiago is a half-brother to 2005 Kentucky Derby winner Giacomo. Like Giacomo, Tiago is owned by Jerry and Ann Moss.

In 2005, Shirreffs gave Giacomo his pre-Kentucky Derby workouts at Hollywood Park and shipped to Churchill Downs at the start of Derby Week. He is likely to employ the same schedule this year with Tiago but has not finalized the details.

"We're in a similar situation" to 2005, Shirreffs said. "We have a horse that's feeling well."

Espinoza poised to pass Gomez

Perseverance will almost certainly take Victor Espinoza to the top of the Santa Anita jockey standings before the meet ends on Sunday.

Through last Sunday, Espinoza trailed Garrett Gomez by two winners, 83-81, but Gomez, who had the lead for most of the meeting, has ridden primarily at Keeneland since April 6 and has no plans to return. Espinoza has no plans to leave Santa Anita this week and believes he will reach the top spot.

"I'm going to do it," Espinoza said between races on Sunday.

Espinoza began Sunday four wins behind Gomez, and won twice on the nine-race program.

Espinoza has been much busier than Gomez at this meeting. Through Sunday, Espinoza had 430 mounts at the meeting, compared with 331 for Gomez.

If the 34-year-old Espinoza wins the title, it will be his first at the Santa Anita winter-spring meeting since 2003-04.

"It always means something and motivates you more when it happens," he said. "You know you're still good in your career and always trying to be better when you get a title."

Espinoza trailed Gomez by as many as 12 wins in mid-February, but began to chip away at Gomez's lead even before Gomez left in early April.

"I had a couple of weeks that were slow and the horses weren't running the way I wanted," Gomez said. "It was one of those things."

Cinema next target for Golden Balls

Golden Balls, the winner of the La Puente Stakes here Saturday, will make his next start in the $150,000 Cinema Breeders' Cup Handicap at Hollywood on June 23, trainer Jim Cassidy said Sunday.

By then, Cassidy is almost certain to have Golden Balls in peak fitness.

The La Puente was the first start since last autumn for Golden Balls, who was purchased for approximately $400,000 at the Tattersalls horses in training sale in England last year. Golden Balls sustained an apparent puncture wound in a foot while being transported to the United States and was not fully fit for the La Puente, Cassidy said.

Golden Balls underwent medical tests over the winter before he began serious training earlier this year.

"I worried whether he was ready today," Cassidy said Saturday.

Ridden by Brice Blanc, Golden Balls rallied from fifth in the final quarter-mile, making up more than seven lengths, to catch pacesetter Desert Code at the wire of the one-mile La Puente.

Golden Balls has won 3 of 8 starts and $89,852.

Cassidy envisions the Cinema as a prep for the Del Mar Derby or the Secretariat Stakes at Arlington Park in late summer.

Cassidy considered sending Golden Balls to the Crown Royal American Turf Stakes at Churchill Downs on May 4, but said he would prefer to stay in California for the colt's next start.

Melbourne invitation added incentive

The $250,000 San Juan Capistrano Handicap on Sunday will have a small field, and there will be an added bonus to the winner. Santa Anita will announce on Thursday that the winner of the San Juan Capistrano Handicap will receive an invitation to the Melbourne Cup in Australia in November, according to a track official. The track has scheduled a press conference after Thursday's races.

The Melbourne Cup, worth approximately $3.8 million last year, is a two-mile race and drew a field of 23 in 2006. The race was won by the Japanese import Delta Blues. The Grade 2 San Juan Capistrano is run at about 1 3/4 miles, starting on the hillside turf course.

Santa Anita officials have extended invitations to 16 horses for Sunday's San Juan. The probable starters are A.P. Xcellent, Church Service, On the Acorn, One Off, Phar to Win, and Runaway Dancer.

One Off won the Grade 2 San Marcos Stakes here in January.

Sweet Return, who is not a definite starter, has been assigned top weight of 116 pounds. A 7-year-old trained by Ron McAnally, Sweet Return has never run beyond 1 1/4 miles on turf, but did win the 2003 Hollywood Derby at that distance.

Bordonaro's win hardly taxing

Bordonaro emerged from a successful defense of his title in the Grade 3 Count Fleet Sprint Handicap at Oaklawn Park last Friday "the best he's come out of a race," trainer Bill Spawr said over the weekend.

Bordonaro won his first stakes of the year in the $150,000 Count Fleet Sprint, leading throughout a relatively slow pace and scoring by a half-length over Semaphore Man.

"When he came into the winner's circle, it was like he had only had a workout or a gallop," Spawr said. "I think he had an easy time of it."

A winner of 10 of 15 starts and $876,794, Bordonaro will be considered for the $100,000 Los Angeles Handicap at Hollywood Park on Mayo12 or $200,000 True North Handicap at Belmont Park on June 9.

Typically, Spawr and owners Fred Carrillo and Daniel Cassella have given Bordonaro considerable time between races, but Spawr said that may not be necessary this spring.

"We think we can come back in four to six weeks," he said.