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O'Neill duo joins Big 'Cap hopefuls on Santa Anita's worktab

A word of caution from Team O'Neill: Handsome Mike is not a one-hit wonder. Those who thought the same of I'll Have Another after his 43-1 upset in last year's Grade 2 Robert B. Lewis paid the price if they missed the boat when he went on to capture the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes.

Handsome Mike is considerably less accomplished than I'll Have Another, having won only a maiden race besides the Grade 2 Pennsylvania Derby last September. Next up is the Grade 1 Santa Anita Handicap on March 2, a 1 1/4-mile classic that could set up well for the four-year-old Scat Daddy colt owned by J. Paul Reddam.

"Handsome Mike can rate," said trainer Doug O'Neill's brother, Dennis. "When he won the Pennsylvania Derby, he was sitting right in behind them on the outside and rallied. So he would love to get another pace scenario like that.

"Game On Dude broke real good in the (Grade 2) San Antonio (on February 3). You really have to get to him, when he breaks like that. You don't hope he breaks bad, but if he does, and you're in front of him, it compromises his chances."

Handsome Mike sped six furlongs on Santa Anita's fast main track Friday morning in 1:11 4/5 with regular rider Mario Gutierrez aboard.

"He worked really well," Doug O'Neill said. "He cooled out good so we're going to take a shot in the Big 'Cap. We were happy with him."

Another O'Neill Big 'Cap candidate, veteran Grade 1 king Richard's Kid, who disappointed in the grassy Grade 2 San Marcos on February 9, logged six furlongs under Tyler Baze in 1:13 4/5.

"Richard's Kid worked by himself," O'Neill said. "We'll see how Richard's Kid cools out, but plans right now are to run in the Big 'Cap."

Handsome Mike and Richard's Kid weren't the only Big 'Cap contenders on Santa Anita's track Friday.

Called to Serve, an easy winner of the Grade 3 Discovery Handicap and Broad Brush in his last pair to close out 2012, registered his third straight bullet work in preparation for the Santa Anita Handicap when recording a co-bullet five furlongs in :59 1/5 with Gary Stevens up. The Hall of Fame rider, who turns 50 on March 6, has the mount aboard the Afleet Alex four-year-old in the Big 'Cap.

"I got him in :59 and one and had him home in (one) :23 flat (for seven furlongs) and out the three-quarters in (one) :10 and three," said trainer Nick Canani, son of trainer Julio Canani, who won the Santa Anita Handicap in 1989 with 50-1 shot Martial Law.

"I was very pleased with the work. He worked great. He did it the right way and I really couldn't ask for much more. I'm happy that Gary breezed him a second time."

The Called to Serve has now five straight bullet moves, with his last coming on February 16 when going six furlongs in 1:13 2/5. Prior to that, the dark bay worked five-eighths at Belmont Park on February 1 in 1:00 3/5.

"I know Gary's got to go to New Orleans (he rides at the Fair Grounds on Saturday) and catch a plane this morning, but I think having him work him one more time allowed them to get to know each other a little bit better. The second time's always better than the first," Canani remarked.

As far as digesting and planning pre-race strategy, the conditioner was understandably ambivalent.

"I don't think we can change our horse's style," he said. "I really think the mile and a quarter's going to benefit us. I think that's the horse's true distance and what he really wants to do.

"The best horse will prevail, hopefully."

Other Big 'Cap workers Friday included Grade 3-placed stakes hero Stephanoatsee, who went six furlongs in company with an unnamed Richard Mandella three-year-old in 1:14 4/5, while multiple Grade 3-placed stakes scorer Clubhouse Ride went seven furlongs in 1:25 1/5 for trainer Craig Lewis.

"He went well," trainer Graham Motion said of Stephanoatsee before catching a flight back East. "He worked in company because he's not a good work horse, but I was happy with his effort."

Stephanoatsee, a four-year-old son of A.P. Indy, was last seen finishing second in the Grade 2 Strub, while Clubhouse Ride, a Candy Ride five-year-old, was runner-up in the Grade 2 San Antonio nearly three weeks ago.

Probable for the Santa Anita Handicap are Game On Dude, Ron the Greek, Called to Serve, Guilt Trip, Stephanoatsee, Handsome Mike, John Scott, Clubhouse Ride, Tritap and Richard's Kid.

Not only will Santa Anita present three Grade 1 races on Big 'Cap Day, fans on track will receive free a Santa Anita tote bag with paid admission while supplies last. Festivities also will include popular premium Food Trucks, a KROQ concert featuring Youngblood Hawk, a microbrew and craft beer presentation and a $400,000 guaranteed late Pick 4.

First post time on Big 'Cap is noon (PST). Gates open at 10 a.m.

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