02/22/2008 1:00AM

Zappa joins Big Cap gang of 15


ARCADIA, Calif. - The field for the $1 million Santa Anita Handicap next Saturday may be determined when weight assignments are released this weekend.

As of Friday, there were 15 probable starters for the Grade 1, 1 1/4-mile race, which will have a maximum field of 14. If the race overfills, the 14 horses assigned the highest weights will be given preference. The tiebreaker is earnings in 2007-08.

Friday, trainer John Sadler said that Zappa, the winner of the Grade 2 San Pasqual Handicap here on Jan. 12, is a candidate for the Big Cap. Owned by Gary and Cecil Barber, Zappa, 6, was seventh in the Grade 2 San Antonio Handicap on Feb. 9.

"He didn't run good," Sadler said. "Maybe he bounced a little bit."

Zappa was claimed for $32,000 last April. The San Antonio Handicap was the first time in 10 starts that Zappa failed to earn purse money for the Barbers.

"We didn't find anything wrong with the horse," Sadler said. "We went over him pretty aggressively."

Zappa joins a list of Big Cap candidates that includes Air Commander, Awesome Gem, Big Booster, Celtic Dreamin, Champs Elysees, Go Between, Great Hunter, Heatseeker, Medici Code, Monterey Jazz, Monzante, Seminole Native, Student Council, and Tiago.

Go Between, the winner of the Sunshine Millions Classic on Jan. 26, and Monterey Jazz, the winner of the Strub Stakes on Feb. 2, are two of the leading hopefuls.

Trainer Mike Mitchell has two probable starters - Big Booster, who was fourth in the San Antonio Handicap, and Monzante, who was third in the Strub. Friday at Hollywood Park, Big Booster breezed seven furlongs in 1:31, while Monzante worked six furlongs in 1:12.80, the fastest of seven recorded works at the distance.

Awesome Gem, who was third in the Breeders' Cup Classic last October and third in the San Antonio, will be ridden by David Flores, trainer Craig Dollase said. Dollase also starts Monterey Jazz, who will be ridden by Russell Baze.

Monterey Jazz, who could have been claimed for $80,000 last November, was ridden by Baze when he won a five-furlong turf race for maidens at Golden Gate Fields last June. A front-runner, Monterey Jazz has won 5 of 11 starts and $347,470.

"We've got a good, strong finisher in Russell," Dollase said.

The Santa Anita Handicap was last run with 14 starters in 2002. Last year, there were eight starters.

Gomez picks up mount on Colonel John

Colonel John, one of the leading 3-year-olds in California, will be ridden by Garrett Gomez in Saturday's $200,000 Sham Stakes, trainer Eoin Harty said on Friday.

Gomez replaces Corey Nakatani, who is recovering from a collarbone injury sustained on Jan. 19.

Nakatani exercised horses at Santa Anita on Friday, the first day he has done so since receiving doctor's clearance to resume work, according to his agent, Craig O'Bryan.

"It will be another week or two" before Nakatani resumes riding, O'Bryan said.

Colonel John won the Real Quiet Stakes in November and was second in the Grade 1 CashCall Futurity at Hollywood Park on Dec. 22. Gomez rode Colonel John in his first race, a second against maidens at Del Mar last August.

The Grade 3 Sham, run over 1 1/8 miles, will probably have a small field. The other probable starters include Coast Guard, El Gato Malo, Trevor's Clever, Reflect Times, and Victory Pete.

El Gato Malo won the Grade 3 San Rafael over a mile here on Jan. 12, remaining unbeaten in three starts.

Kilroe lures three major stakes winners

Saturday's $300,000 Frank Kilroe Mile, the top race of the meeting for turf milers, will also have a small field, but does have three major stakes winners in the last six months among the probable starters.

The Grade 1 Kilroe Mile will mark the 2008 debuts of Out of Control, the winner of the Grade 2 Oak Tree Mile last October, and Artiste Royale, the winner of the Grade 1 Clement Hirsch Turf Championship last October. Artiste Royale was later eighth in the $4.3 million Japan Cup in Tokyo in November.

The race marks the California debut of War Monger, the winner of the Sunshine Millions Turf at Gulfstream Park on Jan. 26. Trained in Florida by Bill Mott, War Monger won the Rutgers Stakes on turf at Monmouth Park last October.

Other probable starters are Ever a Friend, Mr Napper Tandy, and Storm Military, the impressive winner of the Thunder Road Handicap here on Feb. 2.

Trainer John Sadler considered the race for Warning Zone, the winner of the War Chant Stakes at Hollywood Park last November, but has opted to run the 4-year-old in an optional claimer over 1 1/16 miles on Monday.

Valenzuela pleads not guilty to DUI

Jockey Patrick Valenzuela pled not guilty to driving under the influence of alcohol in an arraignment in Superior Court in Rancho Cucamonga on Thursday, according to court officials. Valenzuela's license was revoked by the California Horse Racing Board in late December after he was charged with DUI in Upland, Calif.

Valenzuela, 45, was charged for an incident that occurred in the early morning hours of Dec. 20. The winner of the 1989 Kentucky Derby aboard Sunday Silence and seven Breeders' Cup races, Valenzuela was riding at the time on a conditional license issued by the racing board that mandated random drug testing and that he abstain from consuming or possessing alcohol.

Since losing his California license, Valenzuela has been named to ride at Fair Grounds in Louisiana, where he has an active license, but has yet to ride in that state this year. Louisiana racing officials stated earlier this month that they have no legal basis to prevent Valenzuela from riding.

Claimer breaks down, euthanized

Characteristic, a 6-year-old horse trained by Sadler, was euthanized on Thursday after suffering sesamoid injuries during the running of the fifth race for $32,000 claimers.

Characteristic is the second horse to be euthanized since Santa Anita's main track underwent a five-day renovation earlier this month to add polymers and fibers from the Australian synthetic surface Pro-Ride to the existing Cushion Track brand surface. The track lost 11 days of racing in January and early February after the synthetic track failed to drain following major rainstorms.