07/18/2008 11:00PM

Well Armed in good shape

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Michele MacDonald
Well Armed makes his first start since March in the San Diego.

DEL MAR, Calif. - Nearly four months have passed since Well Armed finished third in the $6 million Dubai World Cup. Since then, the 5-year-old Well Armed has continued to amaze Eoin Harty.

"He's just an iron horse," Harty said. "He just trains himself. He loves everything about the game."

Harty and owner WinStar Farm are hoping that Well Armed's enthusiasm extends to comeback races. He is expected to be favored in Saturday's $300,000 San Diego Handicap over 1 1/16 miles on the Polytrack at Del Mar.

Well Armed has already had a work over Del Mar's track - a half-mile in 46.80 seconds Tuesday - and has impressed Harty and jockey Aaron Gryder with his recent exercise. He is a front-runner who has been on the lead early in his last four starts.

"Talking to Aaron, he's a lot more relaxed," Harty said. "Maybe he's just maturing."

Over the years, some horses have struggled physically after returning from Dubai, but that is not a concern for Harty.

"He's bigger than he was before Dubai," Harty said.

In the Dubai World Cup, Well Armed was beaten eight lengths by reigning Horse of the Year Curlin, missing second by a neck to Asiatic Boy. Earlier this year at Santa Anita, Well Armed finished second in the Grade 2 San Pasqual Handicap over 1 1/16 miles and won the Grade 2 San Antonio Handicap against Heatseeker, who later won the $1 million Santa Anita Handicap.

The Grade 2 San Diego Handicap is the feature race on Saturday's 10-race program. The race is part of the Breeders' Cup's Win and You're In program, offering a berth to the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile at the Oak Tree at Santa Anita meeting on Oct. 25, subject to the payment of entry fees.

The San Diego has drawn a field of 10. Well Armed has the highest 2008 earnings of any entrant - $780,000 - but must beat Rebellion and Surf Cat, who have each won two stakes this year.

Rebellion, eighth in the Breeders' Cup Mile at Monmouth Park last fall, is unbeaten this year, winning two sprints - the Grade 2 Commonwealth Stakes on Polytrack at Keeneland in April and the Grade 3 Ack Ack Handicap on Cushion Track at Hollywood Park on June 7.

Trainer Graham Motion considered running Rebellion in the Grade 1 Triple Bend Handicap over seven furlongs at Hollywood Park on July 5, but opted for the San Diego, the longest start of Rebellion's career.

"It will be his sternest test, other than the Breeders' Cup," Motion said. "I think we'll know where we stand."

Motion said the BC Dirt Mile could be a long-term goal for Rebellion.

Surf Cat was a candidate for the Hollywood Gold Cup on June 28, but was withdrawn because of a bruised foot.

"A bruised foot will make you stop anytime," trainer Bruce Headley said.

The San Diego will be Surf Cat's first start since a third-place finish in the Grade 2 Californian Stakes at Hollywood Park on May 31. He won the Grade 2 Mervyn LeRoy Handicap over 1 1/16 miles at Hollywood Park in April.

Surf Cat had the early lead in the Californian, but stalked the pace in the LeRoy, which Headley would prefer to see in the San Diego.

"He's better as a stalker," Headley said. "The last race there was no one on the lead and he broke sharp. He found himself on the lead, which he didn't like."

The San Diego will be the first stakes appearance of 2008 for Mostacolli Mort, who has won 3 of his last 4 starts on synthetic tracks. The race is the first stakes appearances in the careers of Tall Texan and You Got Me Rocking.

Tall Texan was second to Mostacolli Mort at Hollywood Park on June 26. You Got Me Rocking, winner of an allowance race on dirt at Churchill Downs in May, was recently acquired privately by Burt and Jane Bacharach and transferred to trainer Mike Mitchell.

You Got Me Rocking will race near the front and without blinkers for the first time since last August.

"I don't think he needs blinkers," Mitchell said. "He's got enough natural speed. I don't want him to run off. He may make the lead because he's so aggressive."

Mitchell told Bacharach that he had picked a race for You Got Me Rocking for Saturday. Bacharach thought it was an allowance race, but Mitchell told him of bigger plans for the San Diego Handicap.

"He was kind of surprised," Mitchell said.

"I can always go back" to the allowance race, Mitchell said. "I'm kind of excited about him."