03/18/2009 11:00PM

U S Ranger starting year in $65K stakes

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ARCADIA, Calif. - U S Ranger will be between starts in Grade 1 races when he runs in Saturday's $65,000 Joe Hernandez Stakes at Santa Anita.

Fifth in the Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Mile here last October, U S Ranger will use the Hernandez as a prep for the Grade 1 Maker's Mark Mile at Keeneland on April 10, trainer Neil Drysdale said.

The Hernandez is run over about 6 1/2 furlongs on the hillside turf course.

"I think it will be a nice place to start him up," Drysdale said.

Last summer, U S Ranger finished second by a head in the Group 1 July Cup over six furlongs on turf at Newmarket, England. The July Cup was the second of six consecutive appearances in Grade 1 or Group 1 races for U S Ranger in France, England and the United States.

Though U S Ranger was winless in eight starts last year, he did finish third in two stakes - the Group 3 Gladness Stakes in Ireland last April and the Group 1 Prix de la Foret in Paris last October.

In the Breeders' Cup Mile, U S Ranger closed from 10th in a field of 11 to finish four lengths behind the victorious Goldikova. Aside from Saturday's race, Drysdale wants U S Ranger in two-turn races this year.

U S Ranger faces a decent field in the Hernandez, including four winners over the course and distance: Carrilero, Dodgen Bullets, Doppio, and Euroglide.

Euroglide was second to BC Turf Sprint winner Desert Code in the Grade 3 Daytona Handicap on the hillside turf course on Feb. 15.

Noble Court, the winner of the Grade 2 San Vicente Stakes for 3-year-olds in 2007, will be making his second start on turf. Trained by John Sadler, Noble Court was third in the Grade 3 Vernon Underwood Stakes in his last start, which came at Hollywood Park in November. He was second by a neck in the Captain Squire Handicap over six furlongs on turf at Hollywood Park in 2007.

Fluke possible for Shoemaker Mile

The Grade 1 Shoemaker Mile at Hollywood Park on May 25 could be the next spot for Fluke, who recorded the fastest turf mile of the meet at Santa Anita on Wednesday in winning a second-level allowance race in 1:33.63 under Garrett Gomez.

"I thought he ran pretty good," Bobby Frankel, the trainer of Fluke, said Thursday morning. "He should be a serious horse later in the year."

Fluke, bred in Brazil, was 2 for 3 in his native land, including a win in a Group 3 stakes race and a second in a Group 1. But in his lone previous start in this country, Fluke finished fifth of 10 as the 2-1 favorite with Gomez aboard.

"In his first race, Garrett tried to rate him, and after the race he said he should have let him go," Frankel said. "He said he was a little one-paced. At least Garrett knows how to adjust."

On Thursday, Fluke was on or near the lead throughout.

"They liked him a lot when he first came over, but until they run, and run for you, you never know," Frankel said.

Gallagher looking for clean trip

Trainer Paddy Gallagher is hoping Starlarks has better luck in Saturday's fifth race than she did in her United States debut on Feb. 25, when she was blocked the length of the stretch and wound up sixth in a nine-horse field on the hillside turf course.

"It was just one of those things. She had terrible traffic trouble," Gallagher said Thursday morning. "She's come back and trained well."

As on Feb. 25, Starlarks on Saturday is in a first-level allowance sprint on the hillside turf course. She won twice in seven starts in Great Britain before coming here.

"She had nice form over there, but it looks like with the time she has spent here, and with her getting older, she's gotten stronger," Gallagher said.

Also in the fifth race is Irish import Oui Say Oui, who was second in a Group 2 stakes race in her native country last summer. She is making her first start for trainer John Sadler.

Mr. Hot Stuff joins derby picture

Add Mr. Hot Stuff to the small but growing list of probable runners in the Grade 1, $750,000 Santa Anita Derby on April 4.

"If he's good enough for the Kentucky Derby, he's going to have to be good enough for the Santa Anita Derby," trainer Eoin Harty said Thursday morning.

Mr. Hot Stuff was a fast-finishing third most recently in the Sham Stakes on Feb. 28. The Pamplemousse, who won the Sham, and Pioneerof the Nile, who won last Saturday's San Felipe Stakes, are the top contenders in the Santa Anita Derby.

Mr. Hot Stuff is a full brother to Colonel John, last year's Santa Anita Derby winner.

Spring departures starting

The spring exodus from Southern California has begun. Frankel said he has sent Ventura to Keeneland, and Stardom Bound has left, too, though she will now be trained by Richard Dutrow Jr.

Todd Pletcher's West Coast-based operation will have vacated for Kentucky by April 7, according to assistant Michael McCarthy. Harty said he has begun shipping horses to Keeneland. Bob Hess Jr. will have a string there, too. And Mark Casse will head to Kentucky en route to his summer home at Woodbine in Toronto.

Lone pick six ticket worth $657K

There was one winning ticket in Wednesday's pick six, which returned $657,949. Interest was fueled by a one-day carryover of $156,646 from Sunday.

The winners of Wednesday's pick six races were Red Alarm ($6), Miss Anziayan ($21.80), Samantha's Rule ($23), Xodo ($24.60), Fluke ($7.60), and Enlightened Lady ($25.40).

Track officials said the winning ticket had been purchased for $32 at the Antelope Valley Fair Grounds simulcast facility in Lancaster, Calif.

* Garrett Gomez, the meet's leading rider, will be absent from Santa Anita on Saturday in order to ride Bittel Road for trainer Todd Pletcher in the Lane's End Stakes at Turfway Park.

* Edgar Prado has picked up the mount on two-time champion Indian Blessing in the six-furlong Golden Shaheen in Dubai on March 28, trainer Bob Baffert said. John Velazquez, the regular rider for Indian Blessing, has chosen to remain at Gulfstream Park that day to ride Quality Road in the Florida Derby.

* Gary Stevens will be wearing several hats in Dubai next week. He will be an analyst on the international telecast of the race, will be doing stories for HRTV, and will represent IEAH Stables, which has Kip Deville, the 2007 Breeders' Cup Mile winner, in the one of the stakes races there.

- additional reporting by Jay Privman