10/13/2004 11:00PM

Ten-race card a bettor's dream


ARCADIA, Calif. - Without a marquee horse to promote Saturday at Santa Anita, the Oak Tree Racing Association will rely instead on a backup plan - encourage enthusiastic wagering on an outstanding 10-race card that is the 15th annual .

It's a good idea. The card lacks a star, but is loaded with full fields and prime betting opportunities. Some 98 horses entered the eight-stakes, $1.35 million program for California-breds. The Cal Cup is one of the highlights of the annual autumn Oak Tree meet at Santa Anita, and there are several reasons, including wagering format, why officials are hoping for 30,000 fans in mild fall weather.

Oak Tree has guaranteed a $1 million pool in the pick six on races 5-10, and a $500,000 pool in the pick four on races 7-10.

The timing of the event, two weeks before the Breeders' Cup, is another reason officials are projecting a sizable crowd. The 2003 Cal Cup was held two weeks after the Breeders' Cup had been run at Santa Anita, and ontrack attendance was the lowest in Cal Cup history - 18,029, down from 28,313 in 2002, and 37,602 in 2001.

Handle also has slumped. Bettors last year wagered just $16 million on the Cal Cup card, down from $19.8 million in 2002 and $20 million in 2001.

The biggest standout is Yearly Report in race 3. Her presence in the six-runner Matron is one reason why the $150,000 race was positioned well before the pick six. The Matron is the easiest race on the card; things are considerably tougher elsewhere. The average field size in the nine other races is 10.2 starters per race, and the remaining stakes are wide-open.

The highlight of the card is the $250,000 Classic, which includes front-runner Excess Summer, 2003 Classic winner Tizbud, 2002 winner Calkins Road, and potential upsetter Anziyan Royalty. The Classic goes as race 8.

The Cal Cup features a wide display of the state's breeding program. Two fillies sired by Unusual Heart (Scrofa and Tucked Away) are among the challengers in race 1, the $100,000 Distance Handicap for fillies and mares at 1 1/4 miles on turf. Matron favorite Yearly Report is owned by Golden Eagle Farm, the state's top breeding farm. In the $125,000 Juvenile (race 4), Top Money, a son of freshman sire Old Topper, is favored to win the 1 1/16-mile race.

Green Team tries to repeat in the $150,000 Sprint (race 6) at six furlongs; Western Hemisphere, a full sister to General Challenge bred by Golden Eagle, runs 6 1/2 furlongs on turf in the $150,000 Distaff (race 7); Lennyfromalibu tries to win the $175,000 Mile (race 9) for the second year; and Lady Truffles will try for her first career win in the $125,000 Juvenile Fillies (race 10).

The richest race is one of the most competitive. Ten entered the $250,000 Classic at 1 1/8 miles, and Excess Summer is the 5-2 program favorite but offers the dilemma of uncertain current form. A 6-for-12 gelding whose 2003 season included a series of triple-digit Beyer Figures, Excess Summer has raced just once since an eight-month gap necessitated by surgery to remove a chip in an ankle. Excess Summer fell short in this comeback, finishing third in a sprint at Fairplex Park.

Trainer Jeff Mullins said Excess Summer is "probably a better horse this year, because he's sounder." The front-running gelding was a short horse in his comeback, and Mullins could have entered Excess Summer in the Cal Cup Sprint. But in the Classic, Mullins said, Excess Summer can "make the lead easier."

The question is whether he can stretch his speed 1 1/8 miles off just one prep. Gary Stevens rides, while Victor Espinoza rides the other Mullins starter, Commander's Flag, whose reputation as a late-running sprinter proved inaccurate when he won a two-turn race at Del Mar in his first start since transferring from Bruce Headley to Mullins. Commander's Flag's career-high Beyer is 99; he earned a 95 in his comeback. Mullins cautions speed handicappers not to sell him short.

"I think he'll run a lot better than people think," the trainer said. Commander's Flag is owned by Golden Eagle Farms.

Last year's Classic winner, Tizbud, also faces a layoff dilemma. He is racing for the first time since upsetting the Cal Cup Classic at 10-1 a year ago. A full brother to Tiznow, Tizbud was preparing for a start during the 2003 Hollywood fall meet when he re-injured his left shin. A saucer fracture required surgery to insert a screw in the bone, the screw was removed, and it took time for the hole to close.

Trainer John Sadler said the 5-year-old Tizbud has worked well for his return, but offers no guarantees for his first start in a year.

"Could he need a race?" Sadler said. "Maybe. He's always kind of needed a prep."

Layoff aside, Sadler has done all he can. "It's not like I haven't been able to work him - I have," he said. "And it's the right kind of race."

Tizbud has won 2 of 6, and meets no standouts in the Classic field.

Yougottawanna is the 120-pound co-highweight with Excess Summer. Yougottawanna defeated 2-5 favorite Officer in the 2001 Cal Cup Juvenile, and the Jerry Hollendorfer trainee arrives with sharp form from northern California. But if the Classic is ripe for an upset, then Anziyan Royalty may deliver.

A front-runner who figures for a good trip pressing Excess Summer, Anziyan Royalty finished second in a Fairplex stakes designed as a Cal Cup prep. A 5-for-12 son of Anziyan owned by breeder Nick Cafarchia, Anziyan Royalty is trained by Craig Dollase and will be ridden by David Flores. He has earned triple-digit Beyer Figures twice in his career, and is listed at 6-1 on the track morning line.

The remainder of the Classic field is Intuit, Lava Man, Kedington, and Cozy Guy. First post Saturday is 12:30 p.m. Pacific.

The field

California Cup Classic
Purse: $250,000; 1 1/8 miles

1TizbudT. Baze1179-2
2IntuitG. Gomez11420-1
3Excess SummerG. Stevens1205-2
4YougottawannaR. Baze1205-1
5Calkins RoadR.R. Douglas1176-1
6Lava ManJ. Court11220-1
7KedingtonO. Figueroa11410-1
8Cozy GuyC. Nakatani11215-1
9Commander's FlagV. Espinoza11512-1
10Anziyan RoyaltyD. Flores1169-2

* Odds by Michael Hammersly