09/29/2008 11:00PM

Two Cup-worthy performances

Email

MIAMI - Last Saturday's card was billed as the Festival of the Sun Preview but instead may have produced more prospective candidates for the Breeders' Cup than either of the Florida Stallion series finales, which highlight Festival of the Sun Day here on Oct. 18.

Both Renda and Smooth Air earned tickets to the Breeders' Cup at Santa Anita with their victories in the Brave Raj and Needles stakes, respectively. Renda is being pointed for the Juvenile Fillies Turf or Juvenile Fillies, while Smooth Air will go in the Classic or Dirt Mile.

The Brave Raj is the final major local prep for the $400,000 My Dear Girl, the closing leg of the filly division of the Stallion Stakes for which Renda, a Kentucky-bred, is not eligible.

Also Saturday, Stately Character upset This One's for Phil in winning the Foolish Pleasure Stakes. The result will snap a three-year run of the winner of the Foolish Pleasure going on to win the $400,000 In Reality Stakes, the finale of the open division of the Stallion series. Like Renda, Stately Character was foaled in Kentucky and thus is ineligible for the Stallion Stakes.

The victory by Renda (pronounced "henda," which means "income" in Portuguese) gave trainer Juan Arias the most important win of his career. Arias, a former jockey, took out his trainer's license four years ago after serving as an assistant for several trainers, including Richard Root and Wesley Ward.

"I guess you can say things have moved rather quickly for me," said Arias 43, who rode for nearly 10 years on both coasts, including south Florida, before retiring in 1991.

"The Brave Raj was definitely my biggest win so far," he said. "And I'm looking forward to taking her to California for the Breeders' Cup."

Renda, a daughter of Pleasant Tap owned by Richard Rowan, has won both her starts around two turns. She prepped for the Brave Raj with a seven-length victory in Monmouth Park's Jr. Championship, which was originally scheduled for the turf but was switched to the main track because of a problem with the course's sprinkler system.

"Although she's never raced on turf she's worked on the grass and worked very well over it," said Arias. "And I'm convinced she's a better horse on turf, which is why our first preference for the Breeders' Cup will be the Fillies Turf and the second the Juvenile Fillies. Not having any graded stakes money behind us, we're just hoping we'll be able to get into one of the two races."

Arias said he's looking into shipping arrangements to California. He would prefer to get Renda to Santa Anita as soon as possible to let her acclimate to the surroundings, especially if she ends up in the Juvenile Fillies, which will be run over the Pro-Ride main track.

"She's never been on a synthetic surface before, so obviously that would be a concern if we don't get in on the grass," said Arias.

Smooth Air made his turf debut a winning one when he cruised to victory in the Needles. Trainer Bennie Stutts confirmed Monday that Smooth Air would return to the main track on Breeders' Cup Day.

"We don't want to face those invaders from Europe on the grass," said Stutts. "Right now, we're deciding between the Classic and the Dirt Mile. My owner is currently on vacation in Alaska and he'll make a decision when he returns."

Smooth Air is owned by Brian Burns's Mount Joy Stables.

Stutts's main concern with Smooth Air is that he has never raced over an artificial surface, and he developed foot problems when training over the Polytrack this summer at Arlington Park.

"He usually trains and races with pads on, and I learned the hard way not to put pads on because they tend to slip and the foot breaks up over the artificial surface," Stutts said. "At least on the one at Arlington Park. "My cousin [Charlie Stutts] trains in California, so I'll call him and find out if the situation is the same over the new track at Santa Anita. I really don't want to change his shoes if I don't have to."

High-percentage winner pays big

Trainer Kirk Ziadie is sending out winners at a 25 percent clip this meet, and his horses are almost always among the top choices in a race. That made it all the more surprising that the backers of the Ziadie-trained Silver Envoy received a generous $81.20 mutuel after the 4-year-old filly led from start to finish under jockey Juan Leyva in Sunday's Capital Request Stakes on the turf.

Silver Envoy outlasted 2-1 favorite Dancing Band, who steadied back to the rear of the 12-horse field before rallying strongly near the hedge through the stretch to finish second in a courageous effort. Annabill checked in third in defense of her title in the Capital Request.

* Fans attending the races here Saturday will receive a $10 certificate for food and beverages at all refreshment stands that day.