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Tres Borrachos can earn a trip
ARCADIA, Calif. - Tres Borrachos, winner of the Grade 2 Swaps Stakes last summer, has been invited to the $1 million Godolphin Mile in Dubai on March 28. Trainer Beau Greely has yet to pack his suitcase.
Greely wants to see Tres Borrachos finish first or second in an optional claimer over 1o1/16 miles on Saturday at Santa Anita before making any definitive plans for later this month.
"We thought ideally this race is a spot to get confidence in him," Greely said. "I'd like him to win, to see him run a good race. If he were to run one-two, we'd head on over."
Tres Borrachos is winless in four starts since the Swaps Stakes, with all the losses coming in Grade 1 and Grade 2 stakes. Tres Borrachos was eighth in the Grade 2 San Fernando Stakes here Jan. 17, his only start this year.
For the first time, Tres Borrachos will wear blinkers in Saturday's race.
"Hopefully with the blinkers it will keep him focused more," Greely said.
One concern for Greely is Tres Borrachos's winless record in four starts at Santa Anita.
"I'm not sure that Santa Anita is his favorite surface," he said. "He hasn't seemed to get a hold of it. He tends to run better on dirt tracks."
The optional claimer has drawn 14, but will be limited to 12 starters. Tres Borrachos will be tested. The field includes Aitcho, who has won his last two starts for trainer John Shirreffs; Riley Tucker, who has placed in four graded stakes in his career; and Cherokee Artist, who was second in the Grade 2 Ohio Derby last year.
TOC takes control of purse accounts
The Thoroughbred Owners of California, the state's official representative for owners, took control of horsemen's purse accounts earlier this week in anticipation of the bankruptcy of Magna Entertainment Corp., the parent company of Golden Gate Fields and Santa Anita.
Magna filed for bankruptcy protection Thursday.
TOC officials informed horsemen on Wednesday that it was forming a trust to administer horsemen's accounts. Horsemen were informed on Wednesday that funds would not be available for withdrawal for a period of 72 hours, while the TOC worked through logistical issues. The funds were expected to be available for withdrawal by Saturday, TOC president Drew Couto said Thursday.
Couto said that $9.3 million in purse earnings are held in the trusts.
"This is all protected and fully insured," Couto said. "It's more security for horsemen."
Track targets large Big Cap crowd
Two days after its parent company filed for bankruptcy protection, Santa Anita will host one of its biggest days Saturday - the $1 million Santa Anita Handicap program. Track officials are hoping that the public will not confuse the bankruptcy with the continued day-to-day operation of the track.
Santa Anita president Ron Charles said earlier this week that the track expects a crowd "between 25,000 and 30,000" for Saturday. Last year, the ontrack attendance was 41,377.
Charles admitted he may be guessing low.
"I sure hope so," he said. "It's hard to tell. The ads started running [Wednesday] morning. We started hitting hard. We are heavily promoting this day."
The winter-spring meeting began Dec. 26 and continues until April 19. Charles said that as of Sunday, ontrack attendance was up 5 percent over last year, while ontrack handle was down 3 percent.
Comparisons with last year are difficult. In 2007-08, the track ran on a Thursday-through-Monday basis. This year, racing is being conducted on a Wednesday-through-Sunday basis.
Last year, 11 days were lost because the synthetic main track failed to drain sufficiently. Eventually, three of those days were made up. This year, the track has not lost any days of racing. In addition, the economy is in much poorer condition this year than 12 months ago.
One boost this year has been free general admission on Fridays, which has led to a noticeable increase in attendance on those days. Instead of drawing 3,000 to 3,500, attendance has often surpassed 4,000 and has reached 5,000 a few times.
Friday "has been a pleasant surprise," Charles said. "We hoped for it, and it continues to be successful. What we're seeing is it helps on Saturday and Sunday."
Talented South American makes U.S. debut
This much is certain about Saturday's second race - Hard Bill, the Chilean import with 7 wins in 8 starts, will not have an easy race for his American debut.
"This is the toughest first condition I've ever seen," trainer Mike Puype said.
Owned by a partnership that includes the Little Red Feather Racing syndicate, Hard Bill had winning streaks of three and four races in 2007 and 2008, interrupted by a nose loss in a minor handicap last June.
A 5-year-old horse, Hard Bill is eligible for a first-condition allowance race because he has never won a first-place purse of $10,000 in his career. In Southern California most races with a first-place purse of less than $10,000 do not count toward eligibility.
Hard Bill has won at distances ranging from seven furlongs to a mile, putting Saturday's race at 6 1/2 furlongs at slightly shorter than his previous starts. He has shown the ability to lead or race near the front. Puype cautions Hard Bill may need a start.
"He might not be at the peak of his fitness," Puype said.
The favorite will be Devoted Magic, who was second in the Grade 2 Palos Verdes Handicap on Jan. 25 and second, beaten a nose, in an allowance race over 5 1/2 furlongs here Feb. 20.
Maui Mark is seeking his second win of the meeting. Trained by Howard Zucker, Maui Mark scored a sharp victory in an optional claimer for statebreds here over six furlongs on Feb. 12.
"He's acting great, a little wilder than I thought he would," Zucker said.
Rail Trip points to Santana Mile
Rail Trip, unbeaten in four starts, was briefly considered for Saturday's $1 million Santa Anita Handicap, but trainer Ron Ellis decided that the race was too close to Rail Trip's victory in an optional claimer on Feb. 20.
Ellis confirmed Thursday that Rail Trip will make his stakes debut in the $70,000 Santana Mile on April 4.
"From a long-term perspective, I don't think he was prepared enough to go with those kind of horses," Ellis said of the Big Cap.