04/13/2010 12:00AM

Welken's weakness may be distance


ARCADIA, Calif. - At her most comfortable level of competition, high-priced claimers on turf, Welken has been almost unbeatable in the last six months, winning 5oof 7 starts for two trainers.

Gripsholm Castle has yet to find her mark in the United States after unsuccessfully taking on the finest older female in the country last month.

Thursday at Santa Anita, Welken will be favored to win her fourth race of the meeting in an optional claimer over 1 1/8 miles on turf, the day's seventh race. Gripsholm Castle is a filly capable of an upset.

If Welken is vulnerable, it could be at Thursday's distance. Her last three wins have come over a mile, while she was beaten a half-length in an optional claimer over 1 1/8 miles on turf on Feb. 19. A 6-year-old mare, Welken has won 9 of 26 starts and $245,873.

Since being claimed by owner Nick Alexander and trainer Mike Mitchell last December from trainer Jerry Hollendorfer the day she won a $40,000 claimer, Welken has won 2 of 3 starts and $66,200.

Gripsholm Castle, who is owned by Triple B Farms, joined trainer Ben Cecil's stable over the winter, having been previously trained by his uncle, Henry Cecil in England. In that country, Gripsholm Castle won two minor races and was unplaced in two stakes.

At this meet, Gripsholm Castle was second in the Grade 2 La Canada Stakes against 4-year-olds on the synthetic main track on Feb. 14 and last of eight against the mighty Zenyatta in the Grade 1 Santa Margarita Handicap on March 13.

The La Canada "was the last chance to run against 4-year-olds," Ben Cecil said. "She ran so well, we decided why not take a shot [against Zenyatta]. She's back on the grass, and that's what we bought her for."

At the same time, Cecil is concerned that Welken, who is capable of showing speed, could get away.

"The turf does seem to be speed-favoring," he said. Gripsholm Castle "can lay fairly close or close enough."

The race drew a field of seven, including the improving Van Brit, who is seeking her third consecutive win. Trained by Vladimir Cerin for David and Holly Wilson, Van Brit won an optional claimer and a $50,000 claimer earlier this year. She is not eligible to be claimed on Thursday.