02/06/2007 1:00AM

Strub Stakes preview

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Race 9 - Santa Anita
1 1/8 Miles
Strub Stakes (Grade 2)
4-year-olds
Purse $300,000.

SPRING AT LAST finished gamely for the place going short in the Grade 1 Malibu two back, then lacked a stretch kick when stretched around two bends in the San Fernando Breeders' Cup. He adds blinkers for the Strub, and has enough speed to find a good early spot despite the outside post position. His back Beyers put him in the mix, and he should go off at decent odds after the subpar recent effort. He deserves another chance to make amends for the dangerous O'Neill barn.
MIDNIGHT LUTE just wouldn't go by the top pick in the Malibu, then hung on the money in the San Fernando. There's no doubt that this Baffert-trained 4-year-old has significant ability, but he sometimes lacks focus when it's all on the line. BROTHER DEREK may be rounding into his best form as he makes the third start of the cycle, but the 2006 Santa Anita Derby winner will take money based on his reputation, and he has disappointed the public in his last two races over this track. Expect him to be prominent when they turn for home.
AWESOME GEM has never run a bad race on dirt, and caught a weakening Midnight Lute to upset the San Fernando. He acts like the extra distance won't be a problem, and the race should set up nicely for him. ARSON SQUAD is another one going third off the bench, and is batting .500 over this surface. He hasn't shown much early interest in his last two races, and may need to be a bit closer in this spot.
FAIRBANKS has won three of his last four, but bombed in his lone stakes appearance to date.

Selections:
1. Spring At Last
2. Midnight Lute
3. Awesome Gem