09/09/2009 11:00PM

Smooth Performer gets dirt try

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POMONA, Calif. - Smooth Performer is the in the right spot Saturday at Fairplex Park, racing for a $50,000 purse in the E.B. Johnston Stakes. But is she good enough to win?

Seven fillies and mares run a 1 1/16 miles in the Johnston, and Smooth Performer is anything but a cinch against stakes-placed Spinning Yarns, stakes winner Gambler's Justice, and upset-minded Pams Pompallier.

Smooth Performer, runner-up one year ago in the Grade 2 Hollywood Oaks, will run for the first time since a first-level allowance victory July 10 at Hollywood Park. The layoff was not by design, according to trainer Cliff Sise.

"We couldn't get a two-other-than to fill at Del Mar," Sise said, and when the $85,000 Adoration on Sept. 7 came up too tough, Sise and owner-breeder Marty Wygod decided to wait for the Johnston. It will be the filly's first start on a surface other than grass or synthetic.

"It's dirt, she's a Benchmark, and there's good speed in the race," Sise noted. Offspring of Benchmark are considered more effective on dirt, while Smooth Performer's closing style is flattered by the pace scenario.

Martin Pedroza rides Smooth Performer, a 3-for-12 filly who Sise said will use the Johnston as a prep for the $100,000 California Cup Matron on Oct. 3 at Santa Anita. Smooth Performer is scheduled to retire at the end of her 4-year-old campaign and be bred next spring.

The pace in the Johnston is expected to be set by Gambler's Justice, a horse-for-course who won the 2008 CTBA Marian Stakes at Fairplex. The Johnston is the first start since May for Gambler's Justice, whose chances depend on the extent of the pace pressure from Spinning Yarns.

Paco Gonzalez trains Spinning Yarns, a daughter of Free House whose summer campaign against tougher stamps her as the most likely winner of the Johnston. Spinning Yarns has won 3 of 17. Aaron Gryder will ride.

Pams Pompallier is believed to be better than her U.S. debut indicates. She won 5 of 17 in New Zealand before a lackluster fifth-place comeback. Since that race, she continues to train well for Ray Bell. She will be ridden by David Flores.

Tidal Dance chased Zenyatta last out, Made for Magic upset a $20,000 claiming field in her most recent race, while Magical Victory can improve in the third start of her comeback.