10/01/2009 12:00AM

Shorter better for Runaway Bandido

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Benoit & Associates
Wolf Tail (left) comes into the Cal Cup Juvenile off an upset win in the Graduation Stakes.

ARCADIA, Calf. - The $100,000 California Cup Juvenile slipped in relevance this fall when the race was shortened from its traditional distance of 1 1/16 miles to seven furlongs.

Rafael Becerra, trainer of Juvenile contender Runaway Bandido, will not complain.

"I was happy not to see Carla's horse [in the Juvenile], Becerra said, referring to the Carla Gaines-trained John Scott, the leading California-bred 2-year-old. Due to the shorter distance, John Scott will skip the California Cup at Santa Anita's Oak Tree meeting and stretch to two turns Sunday in the Grade 1 Norfolk Stakes.

His defection leaves the California Cup Juvenile (race 10) with a modest field of 10 that includes maiden winners Runaway Bandido and Bench the Judge, and stakes winner Wolf Tail.

Oak Tree shortened the California Cup 2-year-old races in conjunction with the California Thoroughbred Breeders' Association. According to CTBA executive director Doug Burge, the distances were reduced due to earlier scheduling of the California Cup and a corresponding distance change for the California Breeders' Champion Stakes, which will be run early in the winter meet at Santa Anita.

Burge said the Cal Breeders' races would be lengthened this winter from seven furlongs to 1 1/16 miles, allowing for a natural progression from an autumn sprint to a winter route.

By then, Becerra will have a better idea how far Runaway Bandido can run.

"There is no doubt in my mind he can go long," Becerra said.

No need to quite yet. Runaway Bandido finished second in his debut, then rolled to a convincing 2 3/4-length victory.

"This colt is just learning. He is just growing up," Becerra said. "Seven-eighths is perfect. Just right."

Runaway Bandido was sired by Runaway Groom, and is owned by Judi Partridge.

If the Cal Cup Juvenile lost some of its pizzazz due to the distance reduction, it remains an interesting handicapping exercise. Because while the margin of victory by Runaway Bandido was impressive, the final time was a slow 1:04.90 and produced a Beyer Figure of just 62. Based strictly on the number, Runaway Bandido faces a tall order in the Cal Cup.

Meanwhile, Tribal Face enters off a good third-place finish behind John Scott in the I'm Smokin. Trained by Steve Knapp, Tribal Face earned a 74 Beyer. He previously finished second in his debut.

Doug O'Neill starts two contenders. They are Bench the Judge, third in the Barretts Juvenile last out, and Wolf Tail, upset winner of the Graduation Stakes one start back.

Warren's Doc Gus won a $40,000 maiden-claimer in his career debut Aug. 28, earning a race-high Beyer of 76. However, the horse he beat, Golden Boy Mark, returned to finish fifth on Wednesday.