After weakening in last month's Frank E. Kilroe Mile Handicap (gr. IT) grade I winner Ever a Friend will return to Santa Anita's hillside turf course searching for his first stakes win in more than two years in the $100,000 San Simeon Handicap (gr. IIIT) April 17.
Ever a Friend appeared to be his own worst enemy as the favorite in the March 6 Kilroe, tugging hard on jockey Joel Rosario while chasing the pace in third, only to give way in the stretch after going wide on the final turn. He ran sixth, 2 1/2 lengths behind the victorious Proviso.
The 7-year-old is the 120-pound high weight in a field of eight for the San Simeon, which is contested at the hillside distance of about 6 1/2 furlongs. A companion feature to the $200,000 Santa Barbara Handicap (gr. IIT) for older fillies and mares, the San Simeon goes as the ninth race at 4:38 p.m. PDT.
Two races after being claimed by trainer Mike Mitchell for $62,500 on behalf of Dan Capen and partners, Ever a Friend captured the 2008 running of Santa Anita’s Kilroe Mile when he defeated Artiste Royal by 3 3/4 lengths. Off due to injury for 15 months, the gray gelding subsequently ran second in the Shoemaker Mile (gr. IT) in 2008 and Citation Handicap (gr. IT) in 2009, both at Hollywood Park.
Ever a Friend returned from 3 1/2 months on the sidelines in last month’s Kilroe Mile. His best races have come with Tyler Baze aboard, and they will be reunited over a layout on which Ever a Friend has won both previous starts. He enters the San Simeon with career earnings of $526,568 from a 6-4-2 record in 22 races.
Those in accordance with the "horse for course" angle over Santa Anita's downhill layout will be all over Mr Gruff, a lightly-raced 6-year-old gelding who has won four of five starts on the hillside with only a nose loss separating him from perfection. Rosario rides Gary Broad’s son of Mr. Greeley, winner of last year’s San Simeon by three-quarters of a length over Doppio.
In his only start since last year's San Simeon for trainer Ron Ellis, Mr Gruff won an optional claiming allowance heat over the unique course by 2 3/4 lengths March 19.
Mr Gruff was moved to the downhill turf course after losing his first two starts over Santa Anita’s main track while beginning his career as a 4-year-old in 2008. Ellis has not raced him anywhere else since the bay gelding broke his maiden by 4 1/4 lengths over the strip early last year. Mr Gruff has earned $169,680 from an overall record of 4-2-0 in seven starts.
Ellis also entered Canonize, who appears to be rounding into form for Jay Em Ess Stable with a 3 1/4-length triumph in an optional claiming race over the Pro-Ride main track March 17. The 4-year-old son of Aldebaran, third in last year's Laz Barrera Memorial Stakes (gr. III) at Hollywood Park, is making his turf debut in the San Simeon.
Like Canonize, Joy Ride Racing's Noble Court has done most of his best running on synthetic tracks as well. But he is familiar with the hillside, where he won the 2009 Joe Hernandez Stakes and finished seventh in the Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint last fall for trainer John Sadler.
Twice placed in grade I sprint events last year on synthetic, the 6-year-old Noble Court finished fifth as the 5-2 choice in the Impressive Luck Handicap over the hillside course to begin his 2010 campaign Jan. 2. He has not raced since. Rafael Bejarano replaces Rosario aboard the bay.
Cherokee Heaven, who won the Impressive Luck at odds of 9-1 for trainer Marty Jones, breaks from the rail in the San Simeon. He most recently ran second in a high-priced allowance Feb. 3, a half-length behind San Simeon foe Victor's Cry . The latter will be ridden by Corey Nakatani for trainer Eoin Harty.
$100,000 San Simeon Handicap (gr. IIIT, Race 9, 4:38 p.m.), 4 & Up, About 6 1/2 Furlongs (Turf)
PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer
1. Cherokee Heaven (KY), J Talamo, 116, M F Jones
2. Victor's Cry (VA), C S Nakatani, 116, E G Harty
3. Ever a Friend (KY), T Baze, 120, M R Mitchell
4. Mr Gruff (KY), J Rosario, 118, R W Ellis
5. Canonize (KY), J Valdivia Jr., 116, R W Ellis
6. Noble Court (KY), R Bejarano, 119, J W Sadler
7. Trumpet Player Jay (KY), M Garcia, 113, M Glatt
8. Tiz West (KY), M E Smith, 114, R E Mandella