02/26/2009 12:00AM

Tough spot for a champ in return

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ARCADIA, Calif. - Bold Chieftain won four stakes last year, accomplishing enough to be named the season's California-bred champion turf horse.

Whether he can duplicate that success this year depends on the results of stakes such as Saturday's $100,000 Crystal Water Handicap at Santa Anita. The one-mile race for statebreds will be Bold Chieftain's first start since an eighth-place finish in the Breeders' Cup Mile here last October.

The gap since that race is a concern for trainer and co-owner William Morey Jr.

"We've got a lot of miles under him," Morey said. "It's hard for me to judge how fit he is. We're going into the race with a question mark."

Bold Chieftain was given a month of rest at a farm after the BC Mile, in which he finished 5 1/2 lengths behind the victorious Goldikova. Bold Chieftain has lost his last three starts, including a second in the California Cup Mile here last October.

Bold Chieftain is the 123-pound topweight in the Crystal Water, which has drawn a field of eight. He is the most accomplished member of a field that includes six runners who have earned $250,000 or more in their careers.

Epic Power, who has career earnings of $756,333, and Lucky J.H. ($630,065) are part of the Crystal Water field, attempting to rebound following 10th- and 12th-place finishes in the $500,000 Sunshine Millions Turf for California-breds and Florida-breds here on Jan. 24.

Their trainers dismissed the result because of a turf course rated good. Lucky J.H. was particularly disappointing, having won his two preceding starts - the Sensational Star Handicap for California-breds last April and the Impressive Luck Handicap in December.

"He's never run like that, and he's never run on soft ground," trainer Carla Gaines said.

Last spring, Lucky J.H. was third in the Crystal Water, losing by a neck after leading to the final furlong.

"I don't know what his best distance is," Gaines said. "He's pretty versatile."

Epic Power won an $80,000 claimer over a mile on turf here in January. In the Sunshine Millions, Epic Power was 33-1 and faded from contention in the final furlong.

"We threw it out because of the condition of the track," trainer Jack Carava said.

Making his 65th start, Epic Power, 8, is seeking his 14th win.

"This is a tough race," Carava said. "Every good Cal-bred known to mankind is in there."