09/14/2010 12:54PM

Sugar Spike must ration speed a bit

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POMONA, Calif. – The front-runner Sugar Spike is expected to start favored Thursday in the race-10 feature at Fairplex Park, a first-level allowance/optional $40,000 claimer for California-bred filly-mare sprinters in which Sugar Spike is the controlling speed.

The 6 1/2-furlong distance, however, presents a major challenge for Sugar Spike, whose lead diminished in both career wins at six furlongs. In two tries at 6 1/2, she finished out of the money.

Racing over the five-eighth-mile dirt track at Fairplex, jockey David Flores must ration Sugar Spike’s speed. But it is not easy to wire the field at 6 1/2 furlongs. Through Sunday, front-runners at the Los Angeles County Fair were 0 for 9 at the distance.

Juan Lopez trains Sugar Spike for owner Marsha Naify, and despite possible distance limitations, the 2-for-7 filly remains the horse to beat. Sugar Spike set fast fractions in two recent starts on the Del Mar turf, fourth- and second-place finishes at five furlongs. If she slows down and stays the trip Thursday, she can be gone. If not, bombs away.

Nine fillies and mares are entered in the Thursday feature, including one already familiar to Fairplex horseplayers. Our Road Scholar raced five days ago on Sept. 11, finishing dead last as the favorite in an open allowance/optional claimer. Her effort was not pretty.

Our Road Scholar drifted out on the first turn, and never looked comfortable negotiating the tight corners. She struggled throughout, and finished 5 1/2 lengths behind. Ten minutes after the race, trainer A.C. Avila entered her in the Thursday allowance.

Avila believes overly aggressive strategy was a factor in Our Road Scholar’s inability to handle the first turn.

“She needs to sit,” Avila said. “When she goes against the bit, she does much better. Just sit, and make a run.”

In the five-runner allowance last week, Our Road Scholar was in contention early, did not find cover, rushed on the backstretch, drifted out again coming off the last turn, and faded. Regular jockey Omar Berrio is back aboard Thursday. With a patient ride and a possibly vulnerable front-runner, 5-for-36 Our Road Scholar is qualified to upset.

The meet’s runaway leading jockey, Martin Pedroza, rides route-to-sprint Ashee. Church Avenue figures off her claiming-race win one start back. U Turn Me Crazy, scratched from a stakes last weekend, could impact the pace. Light of a Star, a low-level claiming filly, also has speed.