STABLE NOTES BY ED GOLDEN

• SANTA ANITA HANDICAP HEADS GREAT GRADE I SATURDAY

• BAFFERT WAITS ON THE FACTOR BEFORE DERBY DECISION

• HRTV AIRS ‘CLASSIC COUNTDOWN’ TONIGHT

SETSUKO DESERVES LONGSHOT CHANCE IN SATURDAY’S BIG ‘CAP

Richard Mandella knows his way to the winner’s circle, especially when it comes to the Santa Anita Handicap. The Hall of Fame trainer has won the race three times, and for good measure, enjoyed a 1-2-3 finish with Siphon, Sandpit and Gentlemen in 1997.

Mandella hopes to pull a major upset this year, when he sends out Setsuko in the Grade I, $750,000 Santa Anita Handicap presented by San Manuel Indian Bingo & Casino on March 5.

Setsuko disappointed on Jan. 17 when he finished fourth as the 11-10 favorite in a nine-furlong allowance race against four rivals. Mandella is inclined to draw a line through that race.

“We found some nasty, deep mucous that we had to treat after that race,” Mandella said. “We got it cleaned up and it seemed like that was the key. We’ll just have to consider those other races practice. He’s a mile and a quarter horse, so we feel under the circumstances he deserves a chance.”

Setsuko is a 4-year-old colt by Pleasantly Perfect, who won the Breeders’ Cup Classic for Mandella in 2003. Setsuko was second in the Grade I Santa Anita Derby last year but has only a maiden win in 11 starts. The bay colt has earned $246,686 for owners Wertheimer and Frere.

Special first post time on Big ‘Cap Day is 12 noon.

Probable for the 74th running of the Santa Anita Handicap: Aggie Engineer, Joe Talamo; Game on Dude, no rider; Gladding, no rider; Pode Ir, David Flores; Quindici Man, no rider; Setsuko, no rider; Soul Candy, Garrett Gomez; Spurrier, no rider; Tweebster, no rider; and Twirling Candy, Joel Rosario.

On Hollywood Park’s Cushion Track Saturday morning, Paddy Gallagher worked San Pasqual Stakes winner Aggie Engineer six furlongs in 1:12.80 and Soul Candy the same distance in a bullet 1:11.80. Weights for the Big ‘Cap are due out this afternoon.

Two other Grade I races will be decided next Saturday, the Kilroe Mile on turf for older horses and the Santa Anita Oaks at 1 1/16 miles for 3-year-old fillies.

Probable for the Kilroe: Acclamation, Christian Santiago Reyes; Caracortado, Joe Talamo; Fluke, Rafael Bejarano; Jeranimo, David Flores; Sebastian Flyte, Garrett Gomez; and Times Gone By, Victor Espinoza. Probable for Oaks: Kilograeme, Gomez; Turbulent Descent, Flores; Withgreatpleasure, Espinoza; and Zazu, Joel Rosario.

On Big ’Cap Day, Santa Anita will offer a handy Santa Anita baseball cap free, with paid admission, while supplies last. First post time on Big ‘Cap Day is 12 noon. Gates open at 10 a.m.

KENTUCKY DERBY IS UP TO THE FACTOR, BAFFERT SAYS

The Kentucky Derby is only two months away, but in horse time, it might as well be light years. Much can happen between now and May 7, when the 137th Run for the Roses unfolds at Churchill Downs. If anyone knows the route to Louisville, it’s Bob Baffert, who has won the Kentucky Derby three times and missed by a desperate nose in 1996 with Cavonnier.

This year, the Hall of Fame trainer has a handful of Derby prospects, including, perhaps, his buzz horse, The Factor, who set a track record for six furlongs in 1:06.98 at Santa Anita on Dec. 26.

Despite an altered and unorthodox work schedule due to foot issues that limited him to three recorded workouts prior to the San Vicente Stakes, The Factor came back to win that Grade II race at seven furlongs on Feb. 20. (His workouts came on Jan. 9 at Santa Anita, five furlongs in :58 flat; Feb. 8 at Hollywood Park, six furlongs in 1:12; and Feb. 14, seven furlongs at Hollywood in a bullet 1:24.40).

Next up for the horse named for Bill O’Reilly’s top-rated cable news show on the Fox Network likely is the $800,000, Grade III Sunland Derby at 1 1/8 miles at Sunland Park on March 27, or possibly the Grade II, $300,000 Rebel Stakes at 1 1/16 miles at Oaklawn Park March 19. The Kentucky Derby is on hold, pending first things first.

“Any horse I might be considering for the Derby has to prove himself to me that he fits,” Baffert said. “That’s the whole key. It depends how he’s training. The whole thing about (making) the Derby is about having hiccups. If he doesn’t have hiccups and it looks like he’s training on, then you can move forward.

“The Factor came out of the San Vicente better than he came out of his maiden win (Dec. 26). He got a lot out of it. He showed he can carry his speed seven eighths full bore. That’s pretty impressive right there. It’s very rare you can get a horse to go that fast and keep going.”

Even though The Factor missed his normal workout pattern prior to the San Vicente, it was a race Baffert had ticketed for the son of War Front since his maiden victory.

“That was a race I had plotted,” Baffert said, “and I wasn’t going to get ahead of myself with him. The beauty of it is, George Bolton, who (co) owns him understands the game and knows we have a really good horse, and the horse will tell me when he’s ready to take the next step.”

NEW HRTV PROGRAM ‘CLASSIC COUNTDOWN’ DEBUTS TONIGHT

HRTV unveils its newest show, “Classic Countdown,” tonight at 5:30 p.m. The program is hosted by Jon White and will take a look at racing’s glorious history by showcasing the sport's finest horses and races in a countdown format.

“Our first show is a countdown of the Top 10 Santa Anita Handicaps,” White said. “However, we do have flexibility in terms of the show’s format in not always being locked into showing the Top 10 Santa Anita Handicaps or the Top 10 Kentucky derbies. For instance, we changed it up somewhat for our second show, which will be the Top 10 horses to have run in the Santa Margarita since 1980. For the Big ’Cap, we focused on the races. For the Santa Margarita, we put the spotlight on the horses, including a certain mare you may know whose name begins with the letter Z.”

The Santa Anita Handicap has been one of the world’s most important races since its inaugural running in 1935. The 2011 renewal of Big ’Cap will be next Saturday, March 5, with Grade I Malibu Stakes and Grade II Strub Stakes winner Twirling Candy expected to head the field.

“The Big ’Cap is being run for the 74th time this year,” White said, “and few races have such a rich history. With so many terrific Big ’Caps through the years to chose from, it certainly was not easy to whittle it down to a Top 10 for our first Classic Countdown.”

According to White, Amy Zimmerman, HRTV’s Executive Producer, and Stephen Nagler, the network’s Vice President--Live Programming, came up with the concept for Classic Countdown. “They both have tremendous appreciation for racing’s history,” White said.

Nagler elaborated on what led to HRTV's introduction of Classic Countdown.

“We have a vault of historical footage at HRTV dating back to Seabiscuit’s era, so we thought it made sense to package that footage in a series,” said Nagler. “I think Classic Countdown will be enjoyable viewing for anyone who has an interest in looking back at some of the great races, great horses and great moments from the past.”

FINISH LINES: Track Superintendent Richard Tedesco said Santa Anita was hit with 2 ½ inches of rain from Friday afternoon into Saturday morning. “We’ve had some 18 ¾ inches of rain so far this meet (through 39 days),” Tedesco said. “For the entire meet last season, we had a total of 21 ½ inches.” . . . CashCall Futurity winner Comma to the Top, fourth as the 1-2 favorite in the El Camino Real Derby, is scheduled to work five furlongs at Hollywood Park Monday for the San Felipe Stakes on March 12. “That just wasn’t the same track,” trainer Peter Miller said of Golden Gate’s synthetic Tapeta surface, where Comma to the Top twice won last October, by four and six lengths, respectively . . . Stand pat with Pat in the last race: Patrick Valenzuela has won the last race at Santa Anita three days running, with Breakmark ($9) for trainer Steve Knapp on Monday; with Meadow Lake Queen (6.80) for trainer Moon Han on Thursday; and with Good Friday Gal ($5.40) for trainer David Bernstein yesterday.

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