LONGSHOT ALPHIE’S BET DOMINATES GR. III SHAM, DERBY CONTENDER RIDDEN BY SOLIS, TRAINED BY BARBA

By BETH HARRIS

AP Racing Writer

ARCADIA, Calif. (AP) _ No one is more surprised to find herself on the Triple Crown trail than Alexis Barba.

The veteran trainer is there courtesy of Alphie's Bet, who won the $150,000 Sham Stakes by 2¼ lengths Saturday, helping him establish his credentials for the Kentucky Derby.

"Isn't that amazing?" Barba asked, clutching a bouquet of red-and-white flowers in the winner's circle.

Ridden by Alex Solis, Alphie's Bet ran 1 1-8 miles in 1:48.72 on Santa Anita's synthetic Pro-Ride surface.

Setsuko was second as the 5-2 wagering favorite and The Program, trained by Hall of Famer Bob Baffert, was another head back in third in the field of 10 colts.

"My horse made good move, but he doesn't have a quick turn of foot in the stretch," said Rafael Bejarano, who rode Setsuko. "That's why that other horse beat me."

Alphie's Bet was sixth in the early going, moved up to fifth, then third before gaining the lead past the eighth pole while running in the middle of the track.

"He was a little bit closer than I'd thought he'd be and I was pleased to see it," Barba said. "He got into the race a little earlier than his last race, in which he was kind of pinched back a little bit."

Alphie's Bet is nominated to the Triple Crown races, but he needs to increase his graded stakes earnings in the coming weeks to have a shot at making the Kentucky Derby field, capped at 20 starters. The Sham victory, worth $90,000, increased his career earnings to $141,320.

Barba isn't sure of Alphie's Bet's next start, noting he's nominated to the Blue Grass and Lane's End stakes, both at Keeneland.

Barba, a former assistant to the late Eddie Gregson, has had only one other promising 3-year-old in her career. But Victory Pete, third in the Sham in 2008, got hurt the day before the Arkansas Derby that year, knocking him off the Triple Crown trail.

Alphie's Bet was coming off the turf in his last start, which he won in January at Santa Anita. He now has two wins and a second in five starts.

"He can run all day long," Solis said. "He's such a big horse."

Alphie's Bet paid $19, $8.40 and $4.80 at 8-1 odds. Trained by Hall of Famer Richard Mandella, Setsuko returned $4.40 and $3.20, while The Program paid $4 to show.

A year ago, Solis won the Sham aboard The Pamplemousse, who then became the early favorite for the $750,000 Santa Anita Derby. But the colt was scratched the morning of the race because of an ailing leg, dashing the Kentucky Derby hopes of Solis and his son, Alex II, who co-owned the horse.

Solis, who turns 46 later this month, doesn't yet dare to dream about the first Saturday in May.

"This game is so fragile," he said. "This horse has the talent to go a long ways. You just have to pray to God he stays healthy."

The Sham was postponed a week because of continued drainage problems with the track's surface. The race finished minutes after it began raining, chasing infield fans under the nearest overhang.