10/24/2008 12:00AM

Well Armed defies pessimistic prognosis

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ARCADIA, Calif. - It won't be run on dirt, and last year, it wasn't even run at a mile. But the $1 million Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile got off to a rousing start in its inaugural running last year, with a bravura performance by Corinthian, and, in its second running Saturday, it is one of the most competitive Breeders' Cup races at Santa Anita.

Led by Well Armed, who won the Goodwood Stakes over this track four weeks ago, a field of 12 was entered in the Dirt Mile, which will be run at one mile on Santa Anita's synthetic Pro-Ride surface. With a short run to the first turn, and plenty of early speed among several of the contenders, the race should be challenging for both jockeys and handicappers.

Well Armed, who starts from post 8, is the likely favorite. Now age 5, he is racing in the best form of his life. It's hard to imagine that two years ago, veterinarians thought he would not recover from a fractured pelvis.

"It's a testimony to the owner's perseverance," Harty said, referring to Bill Casner, who owns Well Armed along with Kenny Troutt. "He had medical experts telling him to put the horse down, that he wasn't going to make it. But he's a hard-headed Texan."

Casner nursed Well Armed back to health. "He took him to Texas, rode him - and he's no small guy, about 6-foot-4," Harty said.

Well Armed used to need the lead, but in recent races, he has learned to better ration his speed. He will need that versatility on Saturday, what with the speedy Two Step Salsa drawn to his inside, and My Pal Charlie likely having to gun from post 11.

Mast Track was also expected to be a pace factor, but his participation in the race was in question Thursday because of a quarter crack that developed on the outside of his right front hoof this week. On Tuesday, Bobby Frankel, who trains and owns Mast Track, said the injury was "not that bad," and entered the horse. Two days later, he said that the "odds are he won’t be 100 percent," and was unlikely to run.

Albertus Maximus could fall into an ideal trip. He finished third in the Goodwood, and now shortens back up to a mile, the distance at which he won the Windy Sands at Del Mar.

"He's doing really, really well," said Vladimir Cerin, who has trained Albertus Maximus for his last two races. "He's quite self-confident."

Cerin said he went easier on Albertus Maximus leading up to this race than he did for the Goodwood, in which Garrett Gomez, who will be aboard Saturday, rode Albertus Maximus for the first time.

"I didn't train him as hard," Cerin said. "I want him to be a little sharper for this. I think he'll have to lay a little closer than he did last time, and Garrett got to know him better."

Surf Cat was fourth in the Goodwood, and finished second to Well Armed in the San Diego Handicap at Del Mar in the summer.

Lewis Michael has terrific form on synthetic surfaces. He has 3 wins and 3 seconds in 7 starts. He is fresh, making only his third start of the year, and is coming off a sharp victory in the seven-furlong Pat O'Brien Handicap at Del Mar.

Rebellion finished second in the O'Brien, but there is a question of whether he is quite as effective going two turns.

Pyro, one of the nation's highest-ranked 3-year-olds at the beginning of the year, has never raced in a two-turn, one-mile race, and could find the circumstances too abrupt for his late-running style. In addition, his lone start on a synthetic surface, in the Blue Grass Stakes on Polytrack in April at Keeneland, resulted in the worst performance of his career.

Slew's Tiznow has the look of a live longshot. Though lightly raced, with just four starts, he returned from a 10 1/2-month layoff with an eye-catching win in the El Cajon Stakes at Del Mar.

His full brother, Slew's Tizzy, ended a nine-race losing streak when beating far softer company in a money-allowance race here on Sept. 26.

Lord Admiral, marooned in the far outside post, is making his first start on a surface other than turf in this, his 47th career race.

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