Christopher Paasch hopes Cottonwood Cowboy has come of age since his disappointing debut at Del Mar last August. The 45-year-old trainer realizes that the son of Meadowlake will have to be at his best to beat pro tem 3-year-old leader Siphonic in Saturday's $150,000 Santa Catalina Stakes (gr. II) for 3-year-olds at 1 1/16 miles. "Down at Del Mar he was like a kid who's 13 years old and six feet five," Paasch said of Cottonwood Cowboy, a $110,000 Kentucky-bred owned by Rod and Lorraine Rodriguez. "He had the body but his brain hadn't caught up with his body yet. We asked Rod and Lorraine if we could back off on him and they said, 'Go ahead,' so we brought him back at Hollywood and he seemed to be doing a lot better. He seems a much smarter horse this time." Cottonwood Cowboy finished fifth of eight in his first race, a 6 1/2-furlong test at Del Mar last Aug. 26. He was fourth in a one-mile turf race at Santa Anita after that before winning two straight at Hollywood late last year. "He's a great big beautiful horse," Paasch said. "Hopefully, his brain has caught up with his body." The Santa Catalina is the first two-turn test in the seven-race Santa Anita Derby series, which culminates with the $750,000 Santa Anita Derby at 1 1/8 miles April 6. Meanwhile, trainer Bob Hess Jr. knows he is rolling the dice when National Park makes his dirt debut in the Santa Catalina, but he feels it's worth the chance. National Park ran third in his United States debut, on a "good" turf course in the one-mile Generous Stakes at Hollywood Park last Nov. 24. "It's an experiment," Hess said of National Park's first start on the main track. "He'll either regress because of the dirt and run last or he'll improve and run second. He hated the deep turf (in the Generous). He's a firm track horse. That's why we think it's logical to try the dirt. He's worked super over it. He's done everything right. "I think you've got to give (concede) the race to Siphonic, and hopefully we'll run second if he improves on the dirt."
Probables for the Santa Catalina Stakes, with jockeys: Siphonic, Jerry Bailey; Cottonwood Cowboy, Alex Solis; Labamta Babe, Kent Desormeaux; National Park, Corey Nakatani, and Kedington, Chris McCarron.