11/06/2009 1:00AM

Win spurs what-if for Ever a Friend


ARCADIA, Calif. The comeback victory by Ever a Friend in an optional claimer on the hillside turf course Thursday left trainer Mike Mitchell elated but cursing his luck that the fragile 6-year-old missed the Breeders Cup at Santa Anita on Saturday.

A bone chip in an ankle, detected after a second-place finish in the Grade 1 Shoemaker Mile in May 2008, left Ever a Friend sidelined for more than 17 months. Mitchell ran out of time to have Ever a Friend ready for the Breeders Cup and has instead chosen the $300,000 Citation Handicap at Hollywood Park on Nov. 27.

It would have been too much to ask, Mitchell said of a start in the BC Turf Sprint or BC Mile. It s good to get this race under his belt.

Ridden by Tyler Baze, Ever a Friend won Thursday s race by 1 1/4 lengths over pacesetter Banner Lodge, finishing about 6 1/2 furlongs on turf in 1:11.95. Ever a Friend has won 6 of 20 starts and $466,568.

Claimed for $62,500 by his current connections in December 2007, Ever a Friend won two stakes in early 2008 the Impressive Luck Stakes on the hillside turf course and the Grade 1 Frank Kilroe Mile on turf.

Clement going with six this winter

Trainer Christophe Clement said Friday that he will have a six-horse stable in California this winter, his fourth consecutive year with a small group in the West. Most of his stable will spend the winter in Florida.

Clement said the California group will include Rutherienne, who started in Friday s Breeders Cup Filly and Mare Turf; and Haka, who last winter here was second in the Grade 1 Las Virgenes Stakes and Grade 3 Santa Ysabel Stakes. Rutherienne will be pointed for the $300,000 Matriarch Stakes over a mile on turf at Hollywood Park on Nov. 28.

We ve been pretty lucky, Clement said. They ll stay through the winter.

Last year, Clement won three stakes at Santa Anita the Grade 1 Frank Kilroe and Grade 3 Sir Beaufort Stakes with Gio Ponti and the Grade 3 El Conejo Stakes with In Summation. Gio Ponti has been the leading turf horse in the United States this year, with four Grade 1 stakes wins.

Bejarano, Rosario neck and neck

Rafael Bejarano had 27 wins through Friday, tied with Joel Rosario for the lead in the jockey standings at the Oak Tree at Santa Anita meet. With the meeting ending Sunday, the title is very much in reach for either rider.

Expect Bejarano to make a major push for the riding title at the upcoming Hollywood Park fall meeting, which starts Friday and runs through Dec. 20.

For Bejarano, Oak Tree has not been a satisfying meeting, according to his agent, Joe Ferrer. Bejarano lacked a big stakes win partially because he has been trying to regain mounts after missing most of Del Mar. Bejarano suffered a facial injury in a spill July 22 and returned to riding in late August before being sidelined briefly by a minor thumb injury.

Bejarano, 27, has been riding regularly since early September.

We ve had our time off, Ferrer said. Every day is a new day for us. We plan to ride Hollywood Park and go straight to Santa Anita. We ll be very serious at Hollywood Park.

Hollywood Park s opening weekend features two $75,000 handicaps for statebreds over 7 1/2 furlongs the On Trust on Saturday and the Cat s Cradle next Sunday.

Bejarano rides Dance With Gable in the On Trust. Dance With Gable is a 5-year-old gelding he guided to a win in the California Sky Stakes on Oct. 28. Next Sunday, Bejarano rides Bootleg Annie, a 5-year-old mare who has risen from the claiming ranks to win two stakes this year.

Bejarano was aboard for both of those victories the Fran s Valentine Stakes last April and the California Cup Distaff last month.