07/31/2009 11:00PM

Well Armed goes for San Diego repeat

Barbara D. Livingston
Well Armed will make his first start since a victory in the $6 million Dubai World Cup in Sunday's Grade 2 San Diego Handicap.

DEL MAR, Calif. - If he did not train regularly on synthetic surfaces, Well Armed might not still be around. If he did not race occasionally on dirt, perhaps no one would notice.

Well Armed runs for the first time in four months Sunday at Del Mar, going 1 1/16 miles on Polytrack in the Grade 2 San Diego Handicap. It will be his first start since March in Dubai, where he won the $6 million Dubai World Cup by 14 lengths.

That race was on dirt, the surface on which Well Armed has earned $4.2 million of his $5.1 million total. Coincidence? Hardly. Well Armed is simply a better horse on dirt, a point that owner-breeder Bill Casner

readily acknowledges.

"He's a speed horse, there is no doubt his best racing surface is dirt," Casner said Friday at the Del Mar stable of trainer Eoin Harty.

But training is something entirely different, and Casner believes synthetic surfaces allow Well Armed to overcome an imperfection.

"Everybody knows he toes out," Casner said. "And the only reason he is as sound as he is, is because of these forgiving tracks."

On dirt, horses stride forward, hit the ground, and slide before their feet take hold. The slide-and-stick pressure on dirt increases risk of injury for a horse such as Well Armed. But on synthetic, the slide is minimized. Well Armed has remained healthy.

"He's 6 years old now and as sound as he can be," Casner said. Well Armed is the 123-pound highweight Sunday in the $250,000 San Diego, which he won last year in his first start following a third-place finish in the 2008 Dubai World Cup.

Aaron Gryder rides Well Armed, who will use the San Diego to prep for the Pacific Classic on Sept. 6. The Pacific Classic could include Hollywood Gold Cup winner Rail Trip, who was scheduled for an easy half-mile workout Saturday morning at Del Mar.

Rail Trip's trainer Ron Ellis said, "This track is kind of love it or hate it. We need to see how [Rail Trip] likes it."

Ellis said Rail Trip's Pacific Classic status would be determined in the next week.

With the mare Zenyatta scheduled to run only once this meet, in the Grade 1 Clement L. Hirsch on Aug. 9, and the filly Life Is Sweet not expected for the Pacific Classic after requiring additional time to adjust to Polytrack after shipping in, the Pacific Classic field could mirror the San Diego.

Well Armed, 7 for 24, enters the San Diego as the controlling speed. While the current main-track bias favors closers at two turns, top-class horses such as Well Armed typically are immune from bias. And if Well Armed gets beat first start back, the San Diego is anyone's race.

Mast Track, owned and trained by Bobby Frankel, showed signs of life finishing fourth last out in the speed-dominated Hollywood Gold Cup.

"The speed never stopped, it just kept going," assistant trainer Humberto Ascanio said.

Ascanio expects Mast Track to "sit right behind" Well Armed. With a nine-pound weight break and a current condition edge, Mast Track and David Flores could post an upset. It would not be the first time; Mast Track won the 2008 Hollywood Gold Cup at 10-1.

Temple City, winner of a second-level turf allowance, figures for a good trip forwardly placed. The San Diego is a huge class hike for the

4-year-old by Dynaformer, but trainer Carla Gaines said his best-of-the-morning workout July 26 "was unbelievable." Temple City has won 3 of 7.

The other starters in the San Diego are Song of Navarone, Informed, Allicansayis Wow, Magnum, Kelly Leak, and Sangaree.