12/28/2007 12:00AM

Small field, but plenty of options in San Gabriel

EmailLEXINGTON, Ky. - In most cases, the larger the size of the field, the more competitive a race is likely to be. But Sunday's Grade 2 San Gabriel Handicap at Santa Anita figures to be an exception. Five of the six horses entered in the 1 1/8-mile turf race have good chances to win, and the sixth horse could make his presence felt for a share with a few lengths of improvement.

Daytona is on a roll. He was a comfortable winner of the Grade 2 Oak Tree Derby at Santa Anita two races ago, then repeated last time in the Grade 1 Hollywood Derby. He'll attract good support and will be a prime contender, but the possibility of regression at underlaid odds must be considered. The case against Daytona is that he had things his way while loose on the lead, but he was still all out to win the Hollywood Derby by only a half-length. That was an extremely favorable trip for him since first-call leaders in turf routes at Hollywood were dominant at the time that race was run. Horses with early speed have a distinct advantage in turf routes at Santa Anita, but at 22 percent their win rate is only about half as high as it was when Daytona was victorious at Hollywood (46 percent).

If Daytona is less effective Sunday, Medici Code can capitalize. He rallied from ninth in that 10-horse Hollywood Derby field and finished just a half-length behind Daytona as a 16-1 longshot. Given a less dominant pace advantage for the horses with early speed in turf routes at Santa Anita, and the possibility of improvement in the second race of his form cycle, he is a plausible winner and should be the betting value. The catch is that he only figures to contend for the win based on his last race, while the other contenders have run multiple races that point them out as being major players. But attractive odds on Medici Code would make that an acceptable tradeoff.

Lang Field changed his running style two races ago. He was a front-runner in most of his recent races, but the switch to rating tactics that placed him in midpack at the first call paid dividends when he was the upset winner of the Grade 1 Citation at Hollywood at 18-1. Horses situated in midpack in turf routes at Hollywood had a 9 percent win rate versus 14 percent in turf routes at Santa Anita, so improvement is possible on the track switch.

Both of the Bobby Frankel horses - Proudinsky and Storm Military - figure to make their presence felt. Proudinsky was in contention throughout and finished third, just three-quarters of a length behind Lang Field, in the Citation. That was his second race following a layoff of nearly a year, so continued improvement would make him a serious threat.

Storm Military won Group 1 races in his last two starts in Argentina. He finished second in the restricted War Chant Stakes at Santa Anita, then beat $150,000 optional claimers with a 99 Beyer Speed Figure at Hollywood that suggests he could be a prime contender as he continues on the upswing in his third U.S. start.

Sensational Humor was moved up to first on a disqualification in a $50,000 optional claiming race at Aqueduct in his last start. He would have to surpass his career-best form to upset this field on the class jump, but a minor prize is possible if he improves by a few lengths in his return from a freshening.