ARCADIA, Calif. -- With an allowance race for sprinters carded for Friday and the Sunshine Millions Sprint on Jan. 27, Saturday's $150,000 Palos Verdes Handicap at Santa Anita drew only four runners. But two of the four could use the Grade 2 Palos Verdes over six furlongs as a prep to the $2 million Golden Shaheen for sprinters in Dubai on March 31.
Friendly Island, the surprise runner-up in the Breeders' Cup Sprint at Churchill Downs on Nov. 4, and Harvard Avenue, the winner of the Grade 3 El Conejo Handicap here on Jan. 1, are the leading contenders in the Palos Verdes, and both could head to Dubai.
The pair will be opposed by Limited Creole, a former maiden claimer making his stakes debut, and To Sender, a stakes winner on turf last year, who will be making his main-track debut.
The Grade 2 Palos Verdes Handicap will be run as the third race. It is not part of the pick six on Saturday's nine-race program.
Limited Creole, a winner of 4 of 10 starts, may be alone on the lead.
"I think he's got a big shot, because he's going to be on the front end," said Peter Miller, the trainer of Limited Creole.
Friendly Island was 58-1 in the BC Sprint and rallied from sixth to finish four lengths behind Thor's Echo. Winless in four starts since taking the Grade 3 Maryland Breeders' Cup Handicap at Pimlico last May, Friendly Island has won 7 of 17 starts.
Michael McCarthy, an assistant to suspended trainer Todd Pletcher, said that Friendly Island would be better "if we could have had another work." McCarthy said the 6-year-old horse is due for a breakout performance after appearing in Grade 1 and Grade 2 stakes in the second half of 2006.
"Sooner or later, we'll win one of those," McCarthy said. "I think we've figured out that he's better if we take him back and make one run."
Harvard Avenue surprised trainer Doug O'Neill when he caught stablemate Areyoutalkintome to win the El Conejo over 5 1/2 furlongs by a nose.
"I couldn't believe he got it done," O'Neill said.
Harvard Avenue has won 2 of 3 starts since returning to training after suffering a ligament injury in 2005.
"He came back a fresh horse," O'Neill said.
Now, O'Neill and owner Ron Crockett are looking for clues that Harvard Avenue is worthy of a trip to Dubai.