02/19/2009 12:00AM

Tiz a Blend back on right track

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ARCADIA, Calif. - Tiz a Blend is defending her title on Saturday in the $100,000 Valentine Dancer Handicap at Santa Anita. She is also defending her reputation, which has taken a beating since that win a year ago.

Tiz a Blend enters this year's Valentine Dancer, the ninth race on Saturday's 10-race card, seeking her first win in more than 10 months. Granted, she has raced just three times since then, but her two subpar performances this winter since returning from a lengthy layoff leaves her as a huge question mark in this one-mile grass race for California-bred fillies and mares.

Her last two races were on synthetic surfaces, so she has a right to return to her best form now that she is returning to grass. That's what her trainer, Carla Gaines, is hoping transpires.

"Even though those races were on synthetic, she did not run as well as we expected," Gaines said. "Now we're putting her back on the grass. We're going to reach into the grab bag and see if we pull something out."

Tiz a Blend, 6, has had her best success at Santa Anita. She has won three times in five starts on this grass course. She is winless in her eight other starts. Although she has raced just 13 times, with several lengthy gaps in her career, Tiz a Blend "is very healthy and sound right now," Gaines said.

In her first start this winter, at Hollywood Park on Dec. 20, she finished fourth of seven in the Cat's Cradle Handicap. "She kind of needed it," Gaines said.

Then, in the Sunshine Millions Distaff here on Jan. 24, she drew post 10 in a field of 12, got caught wide throughout, and tired to finish 11th.

"I've always liked her better on grass, but that race was in our backyard, and it was $500,000," Gaines said.

Fourteen are entered in the Valentine Dancer, including two also-eligibles. Bel Air Sizzle, who finished seventh in the Sunshine Millions Filly and Mare Turf at Gulfstream Park following a dreadful start on Jan. 24, carries top weight of 119 pounds. You Lift Me Up, who tired to finish sixth in the Tuzla Stakes at Santa Anita on Jan. 25, is next at 118 pounds. Tiz a Blend carries 116 pounds.

Trainer Ben Cecil has both Waveline and Eclatante in the race. Waveline was fourth in the Sunshine Millions Distaff going 1 1/16 miles after two wins against allowance runners in sprints.

"I think she'll be a little better at this distance," Cecil said. "A mile is about maximum for her. She should be fairly close to the pace."

Eclatante was ninth in the Sunshine Millions Distaff. She was fourth in a second-level allowance race in her only grass race.

Frankel's San Luis Obispo plans

Trainer Bobby Frankel on Thursday entered both Champs Elysees and Zambezi Sun in the Grade 2, $150,000 San Luis Obispo Handicap on Sunday, but it is likely only one will run.

Frankel said Zambezi Sun, who won the Grand Prix de Paris in 2007, will likely make his United States debut in the 1 1/2-mile San Luis Obispo. Champs Elysees most likely will await the Grade 1, $1 million Santa Anita Handicap on the main track on March 7. Both are owned by the Juddmonte Farms of Saudi Arabian Prince Khalid Abdullah.

Zambezi Sun "is doing fine," Frankel said, though he said he doesn't think Zambezi Sun is 100 percent tight. He worked a half-mile in 49.60 seconds on Thursday morning.

Champs Elysees was third in the Santa Anita Handicap last year, and at the end of the year won the Hollywood Turf Cup. He most recently finished seventh on the main track in the San Antonio Handicap.

"There was no pace. He had no chance the other day," Frankel said.

Fourteen were entered in the San Luis Obispo, including two also-eligibles. Champs Elysees and Artiste Royal are the co-highweights at 119 pounds.

Zensational makes season debut

Last summer at Saratoga, Zensational was considered one of the most promising 2-year-old colts on the grounds. A $700,000 yearling purchase, Zensational was sent off at 2-1 in his first start, but faded to finish fourth of eight. He has not raced since.

On Saturday, he turns up in the eighth race. He will be making his first start since Aug. 6, and his first since owner Ahmed Zayat moved Zensational, by Unbridled's Song, from trainer Bill Mott to Bob Baffert.

"He's fast," Baffert said. "I've just tried to slow him down a little."

Zensational has turned in best-of-the-morning works the last three times he has breezed, all this month.

"I popped him out of the gate to see if he was a little rusty. He wasn't rusty," Baffert said. "He's extremely quick."

Garrett Gomez rides Zensational in the six-furlong race.

Others in the race include Iron Fortitude, a Medaglia d'Oro-sired $450,000 2-year-old purchase who is making his career debut for trainer Todd Pletcher, and Off the Wall, a Candy Ride colt who cost $200,000 as a yearling and is trained by Bruce Headley.

* Colonel John, preparing for the Santa Anita Handicap, worked four furlongs in 48.40 seconds on Thursday at Santa Anita. His trainer, Eoin Harty, also worked Well Armed a half-mile in 48.60 seconds, and sent the 3-year-old Mr. Hot Stuff through a six-furlong drill in 1:13.20. Mr. Hot Stuff, who defeated maidens in his last start, is scheduled to run in the Grade 3, $200,000 Sham Stakes on Feb. 28.

* Trainer Amanda McKaughan might have torn allegiances in Saturday's first race, for older maidens. She trains Prize Play, but one of Prize Play's rivals is Thisishoweroll, who is out of the dam Mandy Mack, who was named for McKaughan.

* It won't be a surprise if No Ka Oi has a new owner after Saturday's second race. She has been claimed in six of her last 12 starts. Jack Carava saddles her on Saturday after taking her for $25,000 last time out.

* Trainer Duff Shidaker was fined $200 for failing to have his horse My Ticket to Ride treated with Lasix more than four hours before the first race on Jan. 30, which necessitated the horse being scratched.

w A book on Joe Hernandez, the first racecaller at Santa Anita, is a semifinalist for the Dr. Tony R. Ryan Book Award, presented by Castleton Lyons and the Thoroughbred Times. The book, "The Untold Story of Joe Hernandez: The Voice of Santa Anita," written by Rudolph Alvadaro, was published last year.