01/05/2009 12:00AM

Surface a concern for favorites


ARCADIA, Calif. - The Santa Anita stakes festival that featured one or more stakes the first nine days of the season is interrupted Wednesday for a nuts-and-bolts program in which favorites in the two best races are either total standouts or vulnerable bet-againsts.

Its in God's Hands is favored in race 7, a main-track allowance sprint for statebreds, based on form established at speed-friendly Hollywood Park. Talk of a Cat is favored in race 3, a second-level allowance turf sprint, although he has never raced on grass.

Its in God's Hands benefited from a speed bias last out when he scored a highly rated win on Cushion Track at Hollywood Park. But when the improving front-runner shakes loose Wednesday, he must carry his speed 6 1/2 furlongs without assist from the Pro-Ride surface.

"I'm a little concerned Santa Anita is not nearly as speed-favoring," trainer Peter Miller said, "but we'll be in the lead."

Its in God's Hands won his last two on the front end, and none of his rivals Wednesday are as quick.

Tyler Baze will ride for the first time since he was injured in a spill Dec. 5 at Hollywood. Baze rode Its in God's Hands to victory twice on the speed-friendly Cushion Track. Although Miller believes the horse's improvement is based on "figuring it all out," he is a bit concerned about the race's distance.

So is Its in God's Hands vulnerable?

"Yeah, I think he is," Miller said. "If the race was three-quarters, I'd love him. But if you get a clear lead with a realistic pace [at Santa Anita], you can win on the lead. And I don't think anyone can run with him the first part."

In fact, while the Santa Anita surface is completely different from Hollywood, front-runners do win on Pro-Ride. Through Sunday, the pacesetter had won 4 of 14 races at the 6 1/2-furlong distance. Devoted Magic, Draft Choice, and River Echo will try to catch the leader.

In race 3, Talk of a Cat will be favored in his first try on grass. The lightly raced (2 for 6) colt finished a troubled fourth last time in a main-track race from which the first-, second-, and sixth-place finishers returned to win.

Sired by Tale of the Cat, Talk of a Cat will be ridden by Garrett Gomez, and despite the new surface, he should be favored over Kruger Park and Band of Thunder.