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Horse Racing | HOLLYWOOD PARK

It May Only Be the LeRoy, but It Is Definitely a Start

May 03, 1997|BOB MIESZERSKI | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A year ago, Siphon celebrated Kentucky Derby day at Hollywood Park with a victory over only three opponents in the $100,000 Mervyn LeRoy Handicap.

Trainer Richard Mandella's horse followed that with another victory in the $1-million Hollywood Gold Cup nearly two months later, thus becoming only the second LeRoy winner to do so.

Six older horses hope to take the first step in emulating Siphon in today's 18th running of the LeRoy, which is contested at 1 1/16 miles.

Kingdom Found, who had a nightmarish trip in last month's San Bernardino Handicap at Santa Anita, is the 2-1 favorite in a field lacking the area's top handicap horses, namely, the Mandella-trained trio of Siphon, Gentlemen and Sandpit.

Trying to rally between horses in the stretch of the San Bernardino, Kingdom Found was shut off by Private Song and Region, Private Song doing most of the damage. Kingdom Found, the 7-year-old gelded son of The Bart, lost his momentum and did well to finish second, 1 1/2 lengths behind Benchmark.

Making his stakes debut in the San Bernardino, Benchmark, a lightly-raced, 6-year-old son of Alydar, rallied in the clear on the outside to win for the third consecutive time.

Benchmark, a winner of two of five at Hollywood Park, is the 5-2 second choice. He is owned by Marty and Pam Wygod and trained by Ron Ellis. And with Chris McCarron in Kentucky working for ABC on the Kentucky Derby, Rene Douglas will ride the horse for the first time today.

"He ran really well last time," Ellis said. "I think he really needed the race too. I think he should move forward and he's acting like he will. [The LeRoy] is a good test for him. There will be some of the same horses he faced and a few new ones, so it will be a little tougher for him.

"The distance may be a little short for him--I think he wants to go 1 1/4 miles [the distance of the Gold Cup]--but I think he'll put in a big run. I'm starting to get really excited about him."

One of the new faces Benchmark will be seeing today is Hesabull, the 7-2 third choice. The 4-year-old son of Dispersal has been consistent throughout his career, but hasn't won in his last five starts for trainer Mike Chambers.

Since winning the Affirmed Handicap over this track last June 30, Hesabull has finished third in the Swaps, second in the Malibu, fourth in the San Fernando, second in the San Carlos and second in the Potrero Grande. Those races have been at distances ranging from 6 1/2 furlongs to 1 1/8 miles. He won his only start at the LeRoy distance, the Affirmed, and has two victories and two thirds in four appearances at Hollywood Park.

"He runs his guts out every time," Chambers said. "Hopefully, he'll do it again. He's training well and seemed to handle the track well [when he worked a half-mile in 48 4/5 on Thursday]."

Completing the field are Tom Cruiser, another consistent performer who has finished worse than third only twice in 14 starts, Region and Elmhurst.

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In the day's other stakes, Batoile, who beaten by a nose by heavily favored Wild Rush in the La Puente last month on the turf at Santa Anita, is the 5-2 favorite against nine other 3-year-old California-breds as he moves back to the dirt in the $75,000 Snow Chief Stakes at 1-1/16 miles.

Horse Racing Notes

The gates at Hollywood Park will open today at 8:45 a.m. and the first of the eight Churchill Downs simulcasts, the $50,000 Northern Dancer, will go off at 9:20 a.m. . . . Atticus, who set the world record for a mile--1:31 4/5--winning the Arcadia Handicap on the Santa Anita turf in March, will stand at stud at Three Chimneys Farm near Midway, Ky. Retired because of a chip fracture in his right foreleg, Atticus finished with seven victories in 18 starts and ended his career with a victory in the Oaklawn Handicap last month.

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