04/02/2008 11:00PM

Shorter trip for Daytona

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ARCADIA, Calif. - For all his accomplishments in the last six months - winning four graded stakes and staking a claim among the nation's leading turf horses - Daytona will try something new as the favorite in Saturday's $150,000 Arcadia Handicap at Santa Anita.

Daytona, 4, will be running at a mile on turf for the first time, a distance that could define much of his 2008 campaign.

From mid-October to early February of this year, Daytona reeled off four straight wins in turf races ranging in distance from 1 1/8 miles to 1 1/4 miles, including the Grade 1 Hollywood Derby last November.

Considering his front-running style, the shorter trip in the Arcadia is not a major concern for trainer Dan Hendricks.

"He should be close," Hendricks said. "I don't see any problems."

Hendricks is also encouraged that the turf course is expected to be firm. Daytona finished third over yielding turf in the Grade 2 Mervin Muniz Jr. Handicap at Fair Grounds March 8. The Muniz was Daytona's first loss since a third in a division of the El Cajon Stakes over a mile on Polytrack at Del Mar last September.

Daytona made two trips to Fair Grounds this year, one for the Muniz and the other a win in the Grade 3 Fair Grounds Handicap in February. The extensive travel has not affected the 4-year-old gelding, Hendricks said.

"We shipped twice and we ran into a heavy turf that wasn't good for a speed horse," Hendricks said of the Muniz. "We're disappointed that he didn't win, but we're not discouraged. He came back super."

If Daytona wins the Arcadia, he could run in several more one-mile turf stakes, including the Grade 1 Shoemaker Breeders' Cup Mile at Hollywood Park on May 26.

"There's a good series of mile races coming up," Hendricks said.

In the Grade 2 Arcadia, Daytona is the 120-pound topweight in a field of seven that includes Artiste Royale, the winner of the Grade 1 Clement Hirsch Handicap over 1 1/4 miles on turf last October; Golden Balls, the winner of the La Puente Stakes last April; and Storm Military, the winner of the Thunder Road Handicap in February.

Artiste Royale and Storm Military were second and fourth in the Grade 1 Kilroe Handicap here on March 1, decisively beaten by Ever a Friend, who is not part of the Arcadia Handicap field. Storm Military may threaten Daytona on the lead, while Artiste Royale is a closer.

Golden Balls races from off the pace. He won the La Puente and finished second in the Gradeo3 Cinema Breeders' Cup Handicap at Hollywood Park last June, his most recent start.

"He's one of those horses you can place anywhere in a race," trainer Jim Cassidy said. "A mile is a good place to start."

Golden Balls was sidelined last summer with foot problems, which are no longer a concern, Cassidy said.