Updated on 09/16/2011 7:45AM

Western Pride a tough target

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Michael J. Marten/Horsephotos
Jose Cuevas gallops Mizzen Mast on Thursday. Winner of the Malibu on opening day, Mizzen Mast will likely be favored in the Strub.

ARCADIA, Calif. - There is no easy way for Western Pride's 10 opponents to challenge him in Saturday's $400,000 Strub Stakes at Santa Anita.

To beat Western Pride, the winner of the San Fernando Breeders' Cup Stakes last month, someone must take him on early. If they collectively leave him alone, Western Pride will steal an easy lead. If a rival confronts him, Western Pride can take the challenge, a tactic that worked on a speed-friendly track in the San Fernando on Jan. 12.

Mizzen Mast, trained by Bobby Frankel, may go favored in the Strub, although Western Pride will be well supported.

Western Pride is far from a one-hit wonder. He has won four stakes in his last six starts, leaving trainer Jim Chapman with confidence that borders on arrogance.

After Saturday's Grade 2 Strub, Chapman is planning a start for Western Pride in the $6 million Dubai World Cup on March 23.

"They'll have to try and stay with him," Chapman said. "He's much better now than before. The last race was his prep for this race. There's no reason not to be confident."

What bettors do with Western Pride is another matter. The supporting cast makes Saturday's running of the Strub, run over 1 1/8 miles for 4-year-olds, one of the best in recent years.

Mizzen Mast, the winner of the Grade 1 Malibu Stakes on Dec. 26, returns from a six-week break. Orientate, who dueled with Western Pride in the San Fernando and finished second, is back, along with third-place finisher * and Momentum, who finished fifth as the even-money favorite.

Chapman insists Western Pride does not need the lead, but he will not be far from the front. He towed the field through the West Virginia Derby, Ohio Derby, and Calder Derby last year, but trailed Orientate for the first half-mile of the San Fernando Stakes, which was run over 1 1/16 miles. The two set torrid fractions, including six furlongs in 1:08.80, and never came back to the field.

"He showed the other day he doesn't need the lead," Chapman said.

Recent results do not flatter the chances of Mizzen Mast or Western Pride. Mizzen Mast is trying to become the first winner of the Malibu and Strub since Diazo in 1993-94. Western Pride is trying to become the first winner of the San Fernando-Strub double since Silver Charm in 1998. Helmsman did it in 1996 as did Best Pal in 1992.

Mizzen Mast won the Malibu Stakes in his main track debut. After a poor start, he closed from eighth to win comfortably by 2 1/2 lengths. It was a change from his style in Europe and his first few starts in this country, when he led or stalked the pace. Frankel predicts a stalking trip for Mizzen Mast. "He's not going to be that far out of it," Frankel said. "The other day he stumbled leaving the gate."

Frankel decided to skip the San Fernando in favor of the Strub Stakes shortly after the Malibu. A stakes winner in France last year, Mizzen Mast resumed working for the Strub on Jan. 12, two weeks after the Malibu.

"The way he works, he doesn't need much more," Frankel said. "If you work too much, you're searching for trouble. I think he's fit."

After the San Fernando, trainer D. Wayne Lukas intended to pass the Strub with Orientate in favor of the Kilroe Mile on turf on March 2. Orientate's training in recent weeks forced him to change plans.

Orientate is a confirmed front-runner, setting up another potential duel with Western Pride.

After the San Fernando, Chapman complained that Western Pride was not recognized as a top horse. If he wins on Saturday, against a field that will have him as a target, proper recognition will no longer be an issue.

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