03/25/2010 12:00AM

Tokyo City - a race too far


ARCADIA, Calif. - Philatelist might be a cinch to win the Grade 3, $100,000 Tokyo City Handicap on Saturday at Santa Anita, except for one thing - the distance is 1 1/2 miles.

"That's what I am a little concerned about," trainer Humberto Ascanio admitted. "He's fit enough, and he's working well. I'm just concerned it's too far."

The trepidation applies to most in the field. Around three turns, the Tokyo City is the longest main-track stakes of winter, and only two of the eight entrants - Unusual Suspect and Eagle Poise - are proven at the distance.

Philatelist was an 18-1 outsider in his U.S. debut on Feb. 7, missing by a neck in the Grade 2 San Antonio Handicap. That was the prep for the Grade 1 Santa Anita Handicap, but when 21 entered the Big Cap, horses such as Philatelist who were weighted 113 pounds or lower did not make the cut.

"We tried to enter the Santa Anita Handicap," Ascanio said. Since missing that race March 6, Ascanio said, "I never stopped [training] him."

The close finish in the San Antonio will make Philatelist and jockey Rafael Bejarano one of the favorites in the Tokyo City, which will be his first start in seven weeks.

Rendezvous, however, could be the one to beat. Jerry Hollendorfer trains the 4-for-18 Rendezvous, who faces the same question: Is he a 1 1/2-mile horse?

"Not yet," assistant trainer Dan Ward said.

That may change if the breaks fall his way.

"He got the right ride last time," Ward said, referring to Rendezvous's good fifth at 69-1 in the Big Cap. For Rendezvous, who won the Del Mar Derby last summer, Ward said the right ride is to "take him back, and cover him up."

With leading rider Bejarano opting for Philatelist, Joel Rosario regains the mount on Rendezvous. Rosario was up for Rendezvous's biggest win last summer at Del Mar. He has worked well for the Tokyo City.

Unusual Suspect returns to the main track after two modest efforts in Grade 2 turf races. He won the Cougar II Handicap last summer at 1 1/2 miles. Eagle Poise has won at 1 5/8 miles; he was 13th in the Big Cap; Tap It Light moves up in class after a good runner-up finish in a second-level allowance.

High Court Drama, Quindici Man, and Snowmaster complete the field.