08/16/2008 12:00AM

Student Council older but better

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DEL MAR, Calif. - Student Council is a different horse than he was last year when he pulled a 23-1 upset in the Pacific Classic.

Student Council went into that race with the Maxxam Gold Cup at Sam Houston in early 2007 as his only stakes win. Since then, he has become a fixture in the handicap division. When Student Council tries to defend his title in Sunday's $1 million Pacific Classic, he will be after his second Grade 1 win of the year, having won the Pimlico Special in May.

Yet, the Pimlico Special is not trainer Steve Asmussen's favorite performance by Student Council this year. He was more impressed by Student Council's runner-up finish in the Grade 1 Whitney Handicap at Saratoga on July 26, when he closed from 10th in a field of 11 to finish 4 3/4 lengths behind the front-running Commentator.

"I think the circumstances of the Whitney made it a better race," Asmussen said. "Commentator got loose on the lead and there was a lot of traffic. It was as good as the Pimlico Special."

Student Council, 6, is nearing the end of his racing career. He will go to stud in 2009. His reputation has been enhanced by races such as the 1 1/4-mile Pacific Classic. He won the Grade 2 Hawthorne Gold Cup over that same distance last fall, when trained by Vladimir Cerin, and was third in the Hollywood Gold Cup over 1 1/4 miles in June.

"He's one of those rare horses that can go that far," Asmussen said. "He's very strong about everything he does."

Student Council, who will be ridden by Shaun Bridgmohan, probably will not be favored in the Pacific Classic. The role is likely to go to Go Between, the runner-up in the Hollywood Gold Cup who is trained by Bill Mott. Like Student Council, Go Between is based on the East Coast.

The other probable starters are Awesome Gem, Barcola, Delosvientos, Mast Track, McCann's Mojave, Mostacolli Mort, Out of Control, Surf Cat, Tissy Fit, Well Armed, and Zappa.

Fresher is better for Sweeter Still

Sweeter Still won her third stakes of 2008 in Friday's $85,880 Sandy Blue Handicap, her first start since finishing fourth in the Flawlessly Stakes at Hollywood Park on July 4.

The six-week break between starts could become commonplace for Sweeter Still. Sweeter Still ($4.20) rallied from fifth to win the one-mile Sandy Blue by 1 1/4 lengths over Dawn Before Dawn. Ridden by Garrett Gomez, Sweeter Still was timed in 1:34.25.

"Five or six weeks between races and she'll do that every time," trainer Jeff Mullins said.

Sweeter Still may return in the $100,000 Harold Ramser Handicap at Santa Anita on Oct. 11. A winner of 4 of 9 starts and $265,361, Sweeter Still won the China Doll and Grade 3 Senorita Stakes earlier this year.

Sky Cape, Gio Ponti point to Del Mar Derby

Sky Cape, the winner of the Grade 2 La Jolla Handicap on Aug. 9, is being pointed for the $350,000 Del Mar Derby on Aug. 31, trainer Kristin Mulhall said earlier this week.

The competition will include Gio Ponti, the winner of the Virginia Derby at Colonial Downs in July, according to Nicholas Bachalard, assistant trainer to Christophe Clement.

The Grade 2 Del Mar Derby is run over 1 1/8 miles on turf and will be the longest race of Sky Cape's career. The La Jolla was run over 1 1/16 miles.

"That wasn't the original plan," Mulhall said of the Del Mar Derby. "It looks like he'll go farther the way he relaxed. He's just maturing the older he gets."

Sky Cape has won 5 of 14 starts and $320,230. Sky Cape won the Harry Henson Stakes at Hollywood Park in April and the Alcatraz Stakes at Golden Gate Fields in May.

Tiz West emerged from his last-place finish in the La Jolla "stiff and sore" and may not start in the Del Mar Derby, trainer Richard Mandella said.

Mandella was guarded on Saturday about the Del Mar Derby status of Dixie Chatter, who won a division of the Oceanside Stakes on July 16. Dixie Chatter worked a mile in 1:43.80 on Saturday, slower than expected.

"It was like he was in a different world," Mandella said. "Maybe he had an off day."

Poker tourney for charity

The California Retirement Management Account, which was formed earlier this year to finance retirement opportunities for racehorses, is conducting a charity poker tournament and silent auction at the Del Mar Hilton after the races on Thursday.

The poker tournament has a $200 buy-in, with prizes to the top finishers. In addition, guaranteed seasons will be sold to top California stallions Bertrando and Unusual Heat, according to Madeline Auerbach, the board chair of the account.

For further information, the organization's website is carma4horses.org.