Friday, May 31, 1996

By Vince Bruun

Contention runs deep in Sunday's 43rd running of the $250,000 Californian (Gr. I). The field of five handicap stars -- Del Mar Dennis, Mr Purple, Tinners Way, Helmsman and Siphon -- has won a combined 36 races and $4,955,997, and will help sort out the top local contenders for the $1-million Hollywood Gold Cup on Saturday, June 30. Here is the field: Del Mar Dennis (22-10-1-2--$991,975), Tinners Way(24-6-6-4--$1,695,012), Helmsman (13-5-5-1--$748,249), Mr Purple (19-6-3-4--$1,103,142) and Siphon (17-9-3-1-$417,619).

Gary Stevens, who hasn't ridden since the first race on Friday, May 24, has been named to ride horses Sunday at Hollywood Park: Assertive Lady, 1st; Uno Mas Diablo, 3rd; Zouc Machine, 5th, and Deydamar, 8th. Stevens, who took time off to deal with family matters, also rides Serena's Song in Saturday's $150,000-added Fleur de Lis Handicap (Gr. III) at Churchill Downs.

What do Possibly Perfect and Hollywood Wildcat share in common -- aside from the fact they each won Eclipse Awards as the nation's champion grass filly or mare? The answer is that they each won the Gamely Handicap, Possibly Perfect in 1995 en route to her Eclipse Award, and Hollywood Wildcat in 1994, the year after she was voted the Eclipse.

"That's why it's a Grade I race," said trainer Jeremy Noseda, who sends out Flagbird in the 30th running of the Gamely on Sunday, June 9. "You've got to be a very good horse to win races like that." Whether Flagbird is good enough to win the Gamely remains to be seen. The 5-year-old Nureyev mare has been a regular Lowell Thomas of the equine world. She raced in Great Britain, Ireland, France, Italy and the United Arab Emirates before joining Noseda's stable in California last October. She finished fourth and 13th in a pair of Grade Is, the Yellow Ribbon and the Matriarch -- before winning her first race in the United States on April 28, a $60,000 allowance race on the turf. Overall, Flagbird has won six of 16 starts and $363,983. The late-running mare has won group races in Italy and Dubai, but whether that's good enough to win a Grade I in America is the question that will be answered in the Gamely.

Early probables for the 30th running of the Gamely Handicap, to be decided at 1 1/8 miles on the turf course (weights released Sunday): Auriette, Kent Desormeaux; Didina, Eddie Delahoussaye; Flagbird, no rider; Matiara, Chris McCarron, and Pharma, Corey Nakatani. Possible: Radu Cool, no rider.

Saturday: Suffolk Downs -- $250,000 Massachusetts Handicap (featuring Cigar), post time 1:40 p.m., between the second and third live races. Arlington Park -- $100,000 Sea O' Erin Handicap, post time between the third and fourth races. Sunday: Belmont Park -- $100,000-added Sheepshead Bay Handicap, between the second and third races.

It took John Shirreffs a long time to get Mortlock to the races, but the wait was worth it. Mortlock, a French-bred son of Danehill, came from 15 lengths back to win a $43,000 allowance race on turf by five lengths on May 10. The time was 1:34 3/5 for one mile.

That was a non-winners of one allowance, however. The $125,000-added Cinema Handicap on Saturday, June 8, will be a much tougher proposition.

"I'm anxious to find out where he fits," said Shirreffs. "He's done everything right so far."

Mortlock, trained by Andre Fabre in France, began his career in June, 1995, at Chantilly, rallying to finish second in the $34,800 Prix Vaublanc. The following month he broke his maiden in the $35,000 Prix Radis Rose, a $35,000 allowance race at Saint-Cloud. Afterward, he was sold to Marshall Naify's 505 Farms and shipped to Shirreffs in California. Former trainer Maurice Zilber helped execute the deal.

"We got him during Del Mar," Shirreffs said. "But he developed a cough and he just couldn't get rid of it. We'd work him a couple of times, and then he'd get it again. It wasn't serious, but it meant we couldn't train him. We knew he had some ability and it was frustrating having to wait. But that's all you can do. Otherwise, you just make it worse.

"He's kind of exciting. I don't know how good those horses were he beat the other day, but I like the way he did it. He earned himself a shot (in the Cinema). "Early probables for the 50th running of the Cinema Handicap, to be run at 1 1/8 miles on the turf course: Far Easter, Eddie Delahoussaye; Let Bob Do It, Kent Desormeaux; Mortlock, Corey Nakatani; Nightcapper, Rene Douglas; Private Gift, no rider, and Winter Quarters, Alex Solis.

FINISH LINES: Los Angeles Handicap winner Abaginone remains on course for the $200,000 Triple Bend Breeders' Cup Handicap (Gr. III) on June 30, trainer Sandy Shulman said . . . Terry Mangrum, who had been training a string of runners for Mary Bradley, has taken a job as trainer Tom Bunn's chief assistant . . . Cavonnier is scheduled to work six furlongs Monday at Belmont Park. Trainer Bob Baffert said the Kentucky Derby runner-up has an "83 percent chance of running" in the Belmont Stakes. When asked how he came up with that figure he replied, "I don't know it just sounded good. Actually we are 98.6 percent, no make that 110 percent to run." . . . Tentative date for the 1997 Dubai World Cup: Saturday, March 29, post time 8 a.m. (PST) . . . Multiple stakes winners Twice The Vice and Borodislew remain on course for the $200,000 Milady Handicap (Gr. I) on Sunday, June 23. Twice The Vice worked seven furlongs Friday in 1:26 4/5 on fast main track for Ron Ellis . . . Soul Of The Matter continued his preparation for the Hollywood Gold Cup with a seven-furlong move in a bullet 1:24 3/5 for Richard Mandella . . . Auriette drilled seven furlongs in 1:26 for trainer Marty Jones in a prep for the Gamely Handicap.

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