03/22/2010 12:00AM

Treat Gently should rebound in Santa Ana


PHOENIX - Sunday's Grade 2 Santa Ana Handicap at 1 1/8 miles on the turf at Santa Anita gives Treat Gently a chance to reboot and get a clean start in 2010.

A 5-year-old formerly trained by the late Bobby Frankel, Treat Gently made her first start for Bill Mott in at Santa Anita.

But things went awry in the San Gorgonio. Treat Gently was in trouble right away, tugging away out of the gate under Rafael Bejarano. Bejarano took hold and pulled her back, but Treat Gently's saddle began to creep up her withers, leaving Bejarano with little control. She eventually settled some for Bejarano and finished nicely, running second to Cat by the Tale. If nothing else, Mott and Bejarano knew they had a nice horse on their hands.

Mott has given Treat Gently time to regroup, and she has worked along smartly. It's not as if she has missed anything. Between the San Gorgonio and the Santa Ana, there were no graded stakes at Santa Anita for fillies and mares at 1 1/8 miles or longer. Next month's Grade 2 Santa Barbara is at 1 1/4 miles, which also figures to suit Treat Gently, whose prime exploits in Europe came from 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 miles.

The hurdle Sunday is the presence of multiple Grade 2 winner Tuscan Evening. But Tuscan Evening's only try beyond 1 1/16 miles resulted in an eighth-place finish in the Grade 1 John C. Mabee at Del Mar last August. In her defense, that run came after a busy first seven months in 2009 and preceded a couple of months on the bench, so it could have had more to do with her being low on fuel than her struggling with the distance.

Treat Gently comes in with no questions about distance. The grass season starts to pick up now, and a big run here could propel her into the national discussion. The presence of Tuscan Evening means Treat Gently should be 3-1 or so instead of 8-5, and that can't be bad now, can it?

Pulling Rachel out was right call

Like many, I am disappointed the "Race for the Ages" between Zenyatta and Rachel Alexandra will not happen in the Apple Blossom. But let's face it, as things stand, such a race would be pointless.

No one can convince me Rachel Alexandra can beat Zenyatta anyway, and there was no point in going forward with the Apple Blossom if Rachel wouldn't be at her best. If they had forged ahead and Zenyatta had beaten her, what would that have proved? There would always be an asterisk attached. There was also the overriding concern that forging ahead with such a race before she was ready could ruin Rachel.

Owner Jess Jackson is absolutely correct here. He's protecting his pride and joy as well as her well-deserved reputation. After all, she is the reigning Horse of the Year. She deserves to be at her best when she races.

By no means does this mean 2010 is already a lost year for Rachel. It's only March. Remember, Zenyatta didn't return to the stage last year until May 23.

Maybe this meeting won't happen. But there are chances down the road should Rachel get her mojo back and Zenyatta maintain her amazing form.

For 50 years now the Nashua-Swaps match race has rarely been discussed when determining who was the better animal. Instead, the historical discussion has been more about Swaps going into the race at less than 100 percent, not about the relative merits of the two superstars of the day. If the Rachel-Zenyatta meeting comes off, we don't want to find ourselves in a similar situation.