04/19/2007 11:00PM

Sweet Return and Capistrano a good fit

Alex Evers/Horsephotos
Seven-year-old Sweet Return is the highweight in the San Juan Capistrano Handicap, the traditional closing-day feature at Santa Anita.

ARCADIA, Calif. - Seven-year-old millionaire Sweet Return has seen better days, and so has the Grade 2 San Juan Capistrano Handicap. Sunday at Santa Anita, the horse and the race are a perfect match.

The $250,000 San Juan is the traditional closing-day feature at Santa Anita, and though the 1 3/4-mile grass race lost Grade 1 status three years ago, and its purse was slashed from $400,000, the quirkiness of the race makes it a fun farewell to winter.

It is the type of race Sweet Return figures to relish, even at 7, though as trainer Ron McAnally conceded, "He's getting older now; he's not like he used to be." Sweet Return has won eight races and $1.7 million from 37 starts, and his three Grade 1 victories came by setting slow fractions similar to the likely San Juan pace scenario.

However, Sweet Return has won only one of his last 11, and has not raced beyond 1 1/4 miles. "Maybe if he gets out there and they go slow, he might do it," McAnally said.

Alex Solis rides Sweet Return, the 117-pound topweight. Sweet Return struggled with the sandy turf course at Fair Grounds last out and finished fifth. One back, he led gate to wire in an overnight stakes at Santa Anita.

Six others entered the San Juan, including Midwest shipper Embossed, a Grade 3 winner; and One Off, winner of the Grade 2 San Marcos and the only horse to run in all four legs of the Santa Anita marathon turf series. Boule d'Or, Fitz Flag, Icy Ridge, and On the Acorn also entered.

If he stays the San Juan distance, Sweet Return can win. If not, anything goes. Embossed is a rare California ship-in by Midwest trainer Niall O'Callaghan, who has started four horses at Santa Anita in the past 15 years. He won the Grade 2 San Antonio Handicap in 2001 with Guided Tour, and Wall Street Dancer finished third in the 1992 San Juan.

Embossed, 4 for 21, finished second in a Grade 3 last out at Sam Houston. His most recent win was Sept. 26 at Kentucky Downs in the Grade 3 Kentucky Cup Turf. Icy Ridge stretches out from a sprint, and could keep Sweet Return honest on the lead.

On the Acorn looms the upsetter. Trainer Mike Mitchell said On the Acorn was "wiped out" after finishing third in the Grade 2 San Luis Obispo two months ago. "Now, he's very aggressive," Mitchell said.