03/26/2004 12:00AM

Unfurl the Flag gets test against 'Blues'

Benoit & Associates
Unfurl the Flag wins a Feb. 21 allowance at Santa Anita, missing the track record by .11 seconds.

ARCADIA, Calif. - When the most consistent sprinter in California throws in a clunker, what happens next? That is one of the questions Sunday at Santa Anita, where will be favored to rebound off a seventh-place finish that trainer Ted H. West admits "is still a mystery."

Five sprinters entered the Grade 2, 6 1/2-furlong Potrero Grande Handicap, and Bluesthestandard is not the only enigma. There is also , whose freakish allowance race win on a moist track on Feb. 21 flirted with the seven-furlong track record of 1:20 set by Spectacular Bid. So what happens next for Unfurl the Flag?

"Did the track move him up that much, or has he really improved as much as Mike said?" asked trainer David Bernstein, referring to jockey Mike Smith. "And if he has improved that much, then why isn't Mike riding him?"

Bernstein knows the answer, of course. Smith is the regular rider for Bluesthestandard, whom he guided to a runner-up finish in the Breeders' Cup Sprint and a comeback win Feb. 1 in the Grade 2 Palos Verdes at six furlongs.

But now there are questions. Given his loss in the March 7 San Carlos, has 7-year-old Bluesthestandard lost his zip?

"If that last work was an indication, he's doing great," West said, referring to a five-furlong move in 57.40 seconds that the trainer caught in 56.80. "He's always worked impressively, but never like that."

Bluesthestandard, 15 for 29 lifetime, drew the rail for the second straight time, but the race may unfold perfectly for his closing style. That is because Unfurl the Flag will have company up front in the form of speedster Casas Caballo. Lightly raced McCann's Mojave has won four of five and has the most upside; deep closer Watchem Smokey will rally from the back.

Owned by Jeffrey Sengara, Bluesthestandard at his best is faster than the rest of the field for the $200,000 Potrero Grande.

"The rest of us are just hoping to reach that level," said Bernstein, whose Unfurl the Flag has improved greatly since being gelded four starts back, prior to a Nov. 22 race. In two dirt races since, he has won by daylight.

"His head wasn't in the game," Bernstein said, explaining why the horse was gelded. Since then, Unfurl the Flag has been all business, earning a career-best 111 Beyer Figure for the Feb. 21 victory last time out. Unfurl the Flag won that race on a track listed as fast, but there was plenty of moisture in it. It is fuel for skeptics.

"It's a concern, but he has run well on fast tracks, too," Bernstein said. "And he's good now." Tyler Baze will ride Unfurl the Flag.