ARCADIA, Calif. -- For many of the fillies and mares in Saturday's $300,000 Sunshine Millions Distaff at Santa Anita, the race is the start of a 2011 campaign. For Evening Jewel, there is a chance it could be her last race.
Trainer Jim Cassidy said on Thursday that Evening Jewel needs a strong performance in the Distaff to continue racing this year. A bad loss could lead to conversations about retiring the 4-year-old Evening Jewel with owner Marilyn Braly.
"If she doesn't run well, we'll have to reevaluate," Cassidy said. "I'd like to see her win one for Marilyn."
Evening Jewel has won 6 of 15 starts, including five stakes, and has earned $1,017,943. She is the only millionaire in the Sunshine Millions Distaff for California-breds and Florida-breds. But Evening Jewel has lost her last three starts, including a third in the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Sprint and a fifth in the Grade 3 Monrovia Handicap for turf sprinters here on Jan. 2.
The loss in the Monrovia did not shock Cassidy. He said Evening Jewel missed valuable training time because of wet weather in Southern California in December.
"I didn't have enough in her," he said. "She just emptied out when they came across the dirt. I was disappointed but I wasn't surprised."
Cassidy stopped well short of saying that Evening Jewel would be retired if she is beaten on Saturday. But breeding season is approaching, which adds an element of urgency to a potential discussion between Braly and Cassidy. He wonders if the filly's mental approach has changed.
"They lose it between the ears," Cassidy said. "After a while, it's mentally exhausting. If it were a soundness decision, I'd have a reason to stop.
Saturday, Cassidy will be looking for an indication that Evening Jewel remains competitive.
She will have no trouble with the race distance of 1 1/16 miles, having won the Grade 1 Ashland Stakes at Keeneland over that trip last April. She should have no problem with Santa Anita's dirt track. Last April, Evening Jewel was beaten a nose in the Kentucky Oaks on dirt at Churchill Downs. She later won three consecutive graded stakes, including the Grade 1 Del Mar Oaks.
Evening Jewel will be in pursuit of expected pacesetters Camille C, a stakes winner last year, and Warren's Blossom, who is making her stakes debut. Ultra Blend, who won two stakes for California-breds at Hollywood Park in the fall, will be well-backed.
Briecat, the winner of stakes at Hollywood Park and Delta Downs in the fall; Amazing, who placed in three stakes last year;, and All Due Respect, who placed in four stakes last year, are threats as stalkers in the field of eight.
"Briecat has won from off the pace," trainer Vladimir Cerin said. "We don't need the lead. She's just bigger and stronger than she's ever been."
Trainer Steve Specht starts the multiple stakes winners Antares World and Lady Railrider, but said that Lady Railrider is battling a chronic quarter crack.
"It's something she dealt with her whole life," Specht said. "She always gives an effort."