01/01/2008 1:00AM

Well Armed could be Harty's big gun


ARCADIA, Calif. - It may only be the first of January, but trainer Eoin Harty has big expectations for Well Armed in 2008. He fully expects the 5-year-old Well Armed to be part of the major races of the Santa Anita winter-spring meeting, notably the $1 million Santa Anita Handicap on March 1.

To get there, Well Armed must run well in Saturday's $150,000 San Pasqual Handicap at 1 1/16 miles, his American stakes debut. Well Armed is one of seven older horses that have been entered in the Grade 2 San Pasqual, the first major race of the meeting for older males on the main track.

"It's tough competition, but I think he's capable of handling it," Harty said.

A winner of 3 of 13 starts, Well Armed has already raced on three continents, with varying results. At 2, he beat maidens in his eighth and final start in England in November 2005.

In three starts as a 3-year-old in Dubai in early 2006, Well Armed won an allowance race, but was uncompetitive in two stakes, finishing ninth in the $250,000 UAE 2000 Guineas and 11th behind Discreet Cat in the $2 million UAE Derby in March. The UAE Derby was his last start for England-based trainer Clive Brittain.

Owned by Winstar Farm, Well Armed missed 18 months because of injury, returning in October when he made his first start for Harty. After finishing fourth in an optional claimer for sprinters here, Well Armed won an allowance race at 1 1/8 miles at Hollywood Park on Nov. 11, setting a track record of 1:47.88.

The record was short-lived. Heatseeker lowered the mark when he won the Grade 3 Native Diver Handicap in 1:47.23 on Dec. 8.

Well Armed was expected to make his stakes debut in the Native Diver, but was not entered after becoming ill the day entries were taken.

"It was a minor issue," Harty said. "It was in and out in three days."

The illness postponed Well Armed's stakes debut until Saturday. In the San Pasqual, he faces a field that includes Heatseeker and Molengao, the winner of the 2007 San Antonio and Mervyn LeRoy handicaps, who has not started since a fourth-place finish in the Hollywood Gold Cup last June.

There have been no lasting effects of the illness, Harty said. "He's very aggressive in the morning and seems to enjoy what he's doing," he said.

Harty fears that the San Pasqual distance of 1 1/16 miles may be shorter than Well Armed's best.

"I think a mile and a quarter or a mile and a half is for him," Harty said. "He doesn't seem to get tired."

Ever a Friend wins, may go long

Turf sprint specialist Ever a Friend, who made a quick return on investment by winning Monday's $84,500 Impressive Luck Handicap in his first start since being claimed, will try two turns in his next start, according to trainer Mike Mitchell.

"I want to give him a chance to go a mile," Mitchell said. "If that doesn't work, he'll go back to sprinting."

Ever a Friend scored a 7-1 upset in the Impressive Luck, and had to overcome severe bumping at the top of the stretch to do so. He rallied on the far outside to defeat Bonfante by three-quarters of a length, with favored Night Chapter a nose farther back in third. The longshot Double Action, who bore out badly at the top of the stretch to initiate the bumping, faded to finish last in the field of seven.

Tyler Baze rode Ever a Friend, who completed about 6 1/2 furlongs on the downhill turf course in 1:12.83.

Ever a Friend, a gelding who turned 5 on New Year's Day, was claimed by Mitchell on behalf of owners Dan Capen and Steve, Jeff, and Charlene Ustin for $62,500 on Dec. 6 at Hollywood Park. That was Ever a Friend's second race on this circuit since arriving from the East for trainer Christophe Clement, but it was his first time in a claimer.

"There were about 10 or 12 claims in for him, but these days, everybody puts in two, so there were probably five or six trainers in for him," Mitchell said. "I put in two, too. I didn't know anything about him. He was just a new name, something different. It came down to what he looked like. He's a pretty horse."

Busy New Year's Eve work tab

No one wants to get up early on New Year's Day, even trainers and their barn help, who are used to arriving well before dawn. So it was no surprise to see a busy day of works on Monday, New Year's Eve, at both Santa Anita and across town at Hollywood Park, with 461 horses recording timed workouts.

At Santa Anita, 195 horses worked - including 13 on the turf - most notably Nashoba's Key, who covered five furlongs on the main track in 59.60 seconds for trainer Carla Gaines.

It was even busier at Hollywood Park, where 266 horses worked over that track's Cushion Track surface, including Tiago, who traveled seven furlongs in 1:25.60 for trainer John Shirreffs.

* Trainer Michael Pender was suspended for 30 days and fined $7,500 by the California Horse Racing Board as a result of having a horse test positive for the medication guanabenz, used in humans to treat hypertension, at Del Mar on July 25. Under the terms of an agreement with the CHRB, Pender will have 15 days of the suspension stayed. He will be on probation for one year.

* Owner Louis Masry was suspended on Monday for failing to appear before Santa Anita's stewards to answer charges of failing to pay bills in a timely manner.

- additional reporting by Jay Privman