In a close call, Alysheba was made the 7-5 favorite over Ferdinand Friday when five horses were entered in Sunday's $1-million Santa Anita Handicap.
Jeff Tufts, the Santa Anita line maker, installed Ferdinand as the second choice at 8-5.
Although Ferdinand won the battle of Kentucky Derby winners by a nose over Alysheba in the Breeders' Cup Classic last November at Hollywood Park, Alysheba was brilliant in his only 1988 start, the Strub Stakes at Santa Anita Feb. 7. Ferdinand ran second to his stablemate, Judge Angelucci, in the San Antonio Handicap a week later.
The field for the 1-mile Big 'Cap, the smallest in the 51 runnings of the race, starts on the rail with Super Diamond, to be ridden by Laffit Pincay and carrying 124 pounds. Outside him are Alysheba, with Chris McCarron riding and a weight of 126 pounds; Judge Angelucci, Eddie Delahoussaye, 123; Ferdinand, Bill Shoemaker, 127, and Temperate Sil, Jorge Velasquez, 117.
Super Diamond is third on the morning line at 7-2, Judge Angelucci is 4-1 and Temperate Sil is 15-1. Masterful Advocate, who had been expected to run, was not entered.
Trainer Charlie Whittingham, who has won seven Big 'Caps and two of the last three, trains Ferdinand, Judge Angelucci and Temperate Sil. Whittingham has run 1-2 in the Big 'Cap three times, with Ack Ack and Cougar II in 1971, with Cougar II and Kennedy Road in 1973 and with Lord at War and Greinton in 1985.
Whittingham, talking about Ferdinand, said he expects him to be an improved horse this year, and Van Berg said the same thing about Alysheba.
"You can tell already that Alysheba has matured, both physically and mentally, since last year," Van Berg said.
Ferdinand was voted horse of the year in 1987 while winning only 4 of 10 starts, but his victory over Alysheba in the Breeders' Cup clinched the election.
"Maybe the race will be won by the oldest horse with the youngest trainer," Eddie Gregson joked. Super Diamond, Gregson's horse, is an 8-year-old gelding; the trainer is 49, two years younger than Van Berg.
SANTA ANITA HANDICAP FIELD
PP Horse Jockey Wt. Odds 1 Super Diamond Laffit Pincay 124 7-2 2 Alysheba Chris McCarron 126 7-5 3 Judge Angelucci Eddie Delahoussaye 123 4-1 4 Ferdinand Bill Shoemaker 127 8-5 5 Temperate Sil Jorge Velasquez 117 15-1