02/18/2010 12:00AM

St Trinians had trainer fooled


ARCADIA, Calif. - It is only February, but the action is heating up at Santa Anita, and the handicapping notebook is full again, with stuff like this . . .

* First impressions often need revision, and such was the case with European import St Trinians. The first time trainer Mike Mitchell saw her, he called agent Jamie Lloyd, who arranged the purchase, and asked, "What did you sell me?"

Mitchell was disappointed. "Honestly, I thought I had a claiming horse."

A year later, Mitchell sings a different tune. St Trinians, who cost $85,000 including freight, won the Grade 2 Santa Maria Handicap, she is 4 for 4 in the U.S., and her bold Santa Maria victory makes her a contender for the Big Cap.

* If a filly or mare wins the Big Cap, she will be trained by John Shirreffs. No, not Zenyatta. Rather, it is Santa Maria runner-up Life Is Sweet. She has run races that give her a license to run with the boys, and unlike in her third-place try in the 2009 Hollywood Gold Cup, the Santa Anita Handicap is not likely to be run over a speed-favoring surface.

* As for Zenyatta, everyone wants her to run March 13 in the Santa Margarita Handicap. But Santa Anita would set an uncomfortable precedent by changing the conditions of the handicap to weight-for-age. It is not right to modify conditions for one horse. Officials can assign Zenyatta 126 pounds, give others 116, and be done with it. They would be criticized for being easy on Zenyatta, but it is better than changing conditions of a race.

* Exercise riders are unsung heroes, and it was good news Rachel Alexandra's regular rider Dominic Terry was quickly back to work after a recent spill. In California, Zenyatta's exercise rider Steve Willard has recovered from a painful sciatica condition and is ready to get back on the beast. Willard credits his recovery on reflexology, an alternative therapy based on foot massage. How bad was it? Willard has not ridden Zenyatta in nearly two months.

* The handicapper that suggested Jeranimo was best as a late-running sprinter needs to update his opinion after Jeranimo ran away from odds-on Misremembered to win the Strub Stakes at $22. Nice job by trainer Mike Pender and a fine ride by Martin Garcia. So I promise not to call Jeranimo a late-running sprinter again anytime soon.

* Among the attributes Gary Stevens brings to the broadcast booth is insight into the dynamics of pace. On HRTV's Feb. 15 telecast of the Buena Vista Handicap, Stevens noted Tuscan Evening was "encouraged" to chase fast fractions, and implied her victory was better than the margin. Stevens is right. Tuscan Evening did the dirty work chasing the meet's fastest pace for a mile on turf (45.69 seconds and 1:09.78), and still held them off late.

* Tuscan Evening will face boys March 6 in the Grade 1 Frank E. Kilroe Mile, the same day St Trinians faces boys in the Santa Anita Handicap. What is with girls against boys? - see what Zenyatta and Rachel Alexandra started last year? One thing Tuscan Evening will have that Kilroe candidates Battle of Hastings and Blue Chagall lack is a prep race.

* Maryland trainer Dane Kobiskie sounded like a man that had been buried in snow for a week. When Laurel racing resumed Feb. 13 after a week of snow cancellations, Kobiskie entered maiden claimer Squabble in race 9, first leg of the Magna 5. Kobiskie crazily suggested Squabble was a bigger cinch than Blind Luck in the second leg of the Magna 5, race 4 at Santa Anita. Turns out Kobiskie knew what he was talking about. Squabble won by two easy lengths at $4.40, while Blind Luck won by a desperate nose at $2.40. Chalk one up for Kobiskie, a solid 20 percent trainer and a top handicapper.

* Speaking of the Magna 5, it finally got off the ground last weekend after two cancellations. The sequence started with four favorites that paid between $2.40 and $6.60. The final leg was a $21 upsetter, and the $1 bet returned $534.10 to 548 tickets. This week's sequence has four or more figures written all over it.

* While the Churchill Downs Kentucky Derby Future Wager has gone stale, the winning strategy remains play the field. But this year was weird. No. 24 "all others" closed at an unusually low 3-2, hardly worthwhile. I made the bet anyway. Meanwhile, 105-1 was crazy on Make Music for Me; his $215,000 in graded earnings all but guarantees him a Derby berth. I broke a personal rule to not back individual horses in the KDFW and took the price. One other thing about Make Music for Me - he is still a maiden.

* I am over-involved in Las Vegas future wagers, with three others on my futures "roster" - Setsuko (150-1), Positive Split (100-1), and Who's Up (225-1). It would be fun to brag if one actually made the Derby, but let's be real. Even if Setsuko makes the race, 150-1 actually is closer to 50-1 after factoring in the other losing bets.

* The Grade 2 San Carlos Handicap will be run Saturday at Santa Anita. Can you name the winner of the race last year? Probably not, because Georgie Boy all but disappeared after winning the 2009 San Carlos, his sixth win from 11 starts. Good news for Georgie Boy fans - he has resumed training, at Pegasus Training Center in Washington, and will return to trainer Kathy Walsh's Hollywood Park base this spring. Stay tuned.

* With the exception of Todd Pletcher (2 for 13) and Ken McPeek (2 for 14), most out-of-state-based trainers this winter in California have fallen short of the mark. Patrick Biancone, Christophe Clemente and Bill Mott are a combined 0 for 37. They are top trainers, obviously, but for some reason they cannot buy a win this winter at Santa Anita.

* Have to admit not being a big fan of Quarter Horse racing, but I always watch TVG when Freaky runs; he goes in race 7 Saturday night at Los Alamitos. Post time for the Grade 1 Los Alamitos Winter Championship is 9:19 p.m. Pacific. Freaky, daylight winner of six in a row, is a stone freak. And stone freaks are always fun to watch.