12/29/2005 12:00AM

The Tin Man suddenly pops up

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Benoit & Associates
Sierra Sweetie wins the Cal Breeders' Champion Stakes on Wednesday.

ARCADIA, Calif. - The Tin Man defied expectations by winning a $67,000 allowance race over a mile on turf at Santa Anita on Wednesday, providing the weak turf marathon division in California with a much-needed addition for 2006.

Making his first start in nearly 15 months, The Tin Man outfinished Captain Squire by a head, timed in a quick 1:34.32 under Victor Espinoza.

The victory was a pleasant surprise for trainer Richard Mandella, who felt that The Tin Man would need more distance.

"I thought he'd finish good and that would set him up for bigger stuff," Mandella said. "He may be better now."

The Tin Man missed most of 2005 after suffering a strained ligament in an ankle in the fall of 2004, Mandella said. The allowance race was the first victory for The Tin Man in 34 months, dating back to the Grade 2 San Luis Obispo Handicap here in February 2003.

Mandella said The Tin Man would be pointed for the San Marcos Stakes on Jan. 22, a race in which he finished second in 2003.

Plagued by injuries throughout his career, The Tin Man has won 8 of 22 starts and $1,136,860 for owner-breeders Ralph and Aury Todd.

Flap over which races make the card

Santa Anita racing officials have called into question the role the Thoroughbred Owners of California plays in selecting races during the entry process after a member of the TOC board of directors demanded on Wednesday that a race that included one of his horses be used on Friday.

The debate led to a scheduled meeting between TOC officials and Santa Anita officials on Thursday. The TOC is the official horsemen's organization in California.

On Wednesday, Santa Anita racing officials filled more than the maximum of eight races for Friday's card. Director of racing Mike Harlow and racing secretary Rick Hammerle selected six of eight races from the condition book and two races from a list of extra races that were initially offered Monday, but were not used.

Officials select from three types of races when compiling a program: a main body of prospective races and a list of possible substitute races that are published in a condition book, as well as a list of extras, which are published on overnight entry sheets.

But before entries were drawn, TOC board member Don Valpredo said that a substitute race - an allowance race for California-bred fillies and mares - should be used in place of one of the extra races, because the substitute race was printed in a condition book that was distributed in mid-December. In his argument, Valpredo cited a provision in the horsemen's agreement between the TOC and Santa Anita stating that condition book races take preference over extras. Valpredo had entered the 3-year-old filly Mayacama for the statebred allowance race.

Racing officials disputed Valpredo's reasoning, arguing that substitute and extra races should be treated equally when races are selected. In the end, the statebred allowance race was used and a $20,000 claimer, one of the extras, was not used.

Hammerle and Harlow said that Valpredo became angry at them on Wednesday morning, which Valpredo denied on Thursday.

The issue has frazzled relations between the racing office and the TOC. "Who's running the racing office - the racing secretary or the TOC?" Hammerle said on Thursday.

Valpredo defended his position, saying the statebred allowance race was important because it is a prep to the Sunshine Millions Filly and Mare Turf on Jan. 28. He denied that it was a conflict of interest to insist that his filly's race be used.

"If it would have been another owner that would have called me, I would have taken the same position," he said. "When a race is a substitute race in the condition book and it fills, it has precedent."

Sierra Sweetie looking to stretch out

Sierra Sweetie won her third stakes in Wednesday's $139,750 California Breeders' Champion Stakes, a race that trainer Jeff Bonde hopes will be her last sprint for the foreseeable future.

Sierra Sweetie won the seven-furlong Champion Stakes by three lengths over the maiden She's an Eleven in 1:23.45. Unchanged Melody finished third in the field of 10 2-year-old statebred fillies. Windy, the 9-5 favorite, was an unlucky fifth after a poor start.

Sierra Sweetie was always near the front before drawing off in early stretch under Victor Espinoza.

"She's always had a lot of natural speed," Bonde said. "We're still trying to rate her."

Sierra Sweetie has won stakes in three of her last four starts.

Bonde said the $250,000 Sunshine Millions Oaks over six furlongs at Gulfstream Park on Jan. 28 was questionable for Sierra Sweetie because of the short distance.

"The only thing that will affect my decision is whether we decide to route," Bonde said. "I don't want to cut her back in distance."

Gelded Wanna Runner gets 2nd win

Wanna Runner stretched his winning streak to two in an allowance race over 1 1/16 miles on Wednesday, enhancing his place among candidates for the 2006 Triple Crown preps.

Wanna Runner ($9.40) finished 1 3/4 lengths in front of The Five J's, and was timed in 1:44.57. Ridden by Espinoza, Wanna Runner stalked The Five J's to early stretch before taking the lead.

"He's learned to relax a little bit," trainer Bob Baffert said. "I almost ran him in the Hollywood Futurity, but I wanted to give him more time."

Wanna Runner beat maidens at Hollywood Park on Nov. 25, his first start since being gelded and his third career start.