02/26/2008 1:00AM

Which Go Between will show up?


ARCADIA, Calif. - For a horse that has won two $1 million races, Go Between has left jockey Garrett Gomez and trainer Bill Mott baffled as to what to expect in the $1 million Santa Anita Handicap on Saturday.

Guessing is always an option, but Go Between has fooled them in the past.

Gomez has ridden the 5-year-old horse to wins in the two seven-figure races - the Virginia Derby at Colonial Downs in 2006 and the Sunshine Millions Classic at Santa Anita on Jan. 26 - but is quick to say that Go Between is something of a head case.

"He's got all the ability in the world," Gomez said. "Some days he shows up and some days he doesn't. He can get a little stupid.

"He's got a little attitude and can be a little difficult. You can lead him to the gate, and he's liable to strike the gate man."

Mott, the Hall of Fame trainer, frets over whether Go Between will handle the newly renovated synthetic track at Santa Anita on Saturday as well as he did the Cushion Track in the Sunshine Millions, which was run before the track was renovated earlier this month.

"I don't know if it will be the same track we had for the Sunshine Millions," Mott said. "Are the same horses going to handle this track as they did before? I just hope he can repeat his last race."

Despite the hesitations of his jockey and trainer, Go Between approaches the Big Cap in outstanding form and as the richest candidate for the race, with a career record of 7 wins in 22 starts and earnings of $1,803,880. Owned and bred by Peter Vegso, Go Between rallied from off the pace to win the Sunshine Millions Classic for California-breds and Florida-breds in his last start.

The win left his synthetic track record perfect after two starts on such surfaces. Last fall, in his first start on a synthetic track, Go Between won the Grade 3 Fayette Stakes on the Polytrack at Keeneland. In his only other start on a main track, Go Between was third in the 2005 Pilgrim Stakes on the dirt at Belmont Park.

"There are surfaces that he's favored, and those surfaces are usually fairly firm - firm turf, firm synthetic," Mott said. "He did run on Keeneland, which is not considered as firm as the California synthetic surface."

In 2007, Go Between won 3 of 10 starts. In the Grade 1 Woodford Reserve Turf Classic at Churchill Downs, he was fractious in the gate under Gomez, never threatened the leaders, and finished ninth. It was the first loss in a four-race losing streak that ended with a 4 3/4-length victory in the Louisiana Downs Breeders' Cup Handicap over turf, followed by his Fayette Stakes win. After the Fayette, Go Between closed out his season with a sixth in the Grade 3 Tropical Turf at Calder.

Mott says the big-race wins have softened his frustrations regarding Go Between.

"He hasn't been the most consistent horse, but he's put forth some big efforts," he said.

Mott shipped Go Between back to his winter base at Payson Park in Florida after the Sunshine Millions. Go Between was scheduled to return to California earlier this week. As the Big Cap approaches, Mott said that Go Between "has never been better."

Mott, based primarily in New York, has never had a starter in the Santa Anita Handicap, though that has not been by design.

In 1996, Mott was pointing reigning Horse of the Year Cigar to the Big Cap when a foot injury in late February derailed those plans. Cigar recovered in time to travel to the Middle East to win the inaugural Dubai World Cup against fellow American invader Soul of the Matter nearly a month later.

Go Between represents a rare Eastern-based shipper for the Big Cap, which has been worth $1 million since 1986. The race's prestige has suffered in the last two decades, with the advent of the Breeders' Cup Classic in the fall and the Dubai World Cup as a more lucrative prize in late March. The last shipper to win the Big Cap was Broad Brush in 1987.

A win by Go Between would show that a home-track advantage is not necessary to win the richest race of the Santa Anita winter-spring meeting.

"I guess the big question: Does it matter as much since it's run on a synthetic surface," Mott said. "Time will sort that out. History will play a part in that."

Go Between could play a role in that history Saturday.