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Horse Racing

Either Way, It Will Be One for the Money

Hollywood Park: Whether coupled or if only one runs, stablemates Exotic Wood and Twice The Vice figure to have Milady Handicap opponents at their mercy.

June 21, 1997|BOB MIESZERSKI | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Without question, Ron Ellis will saddle the favorite in the $200,000-added Milady Breeders' Cup Handicap on Sunday at Hollywood Park.

What's undecided is who that favorite will be. The trainer has two top-quality mares and may be sending both out.

Exotic Wood is definitely in the 1 1/16-mile prep for next month's $300,000 Vanity Handicap, but the status of Twice The Vice is uncertain. If both start, they will be coupled in the betting, since both are owned by Pam and Marty Wygod. However, the plan this year has been to keep them apart until the Breeders' Cup Distaff on Nov. 8 at their home track.

Had Exotic Wood done what she was supposed to do in the Soviet Problem Breeders' Cup Handicap on May 26 at Golden Gate Fields, there would be no doubt about what would be happening Sunday.

The 5-year-old would be running in the Grade I Milady and Twice The Vice would not even have been entered. Rather, she would be heading to New York to race Jewel Princess, 1996 Breeders' Cup Distaff and Eclipse champion, in the $250,000 Hempstead Handicap next weekend at Belmont Park. And she may still end up there.

Unfortunately for the owners and trainer, Exotic Wood did the unexpected at Golden Gate Fields. The prohibitive 2-5 choice against only three seemingly outclassed rivals in her first start since she won the Go For Wand, a Grade I at Saratoga last July 28, she finished last in the six-furlong race, more than five lengths behind winning Avenue Of Gold.

"For sure, it was the most disappointed I've ever been in a horse," Ellis said. "Especially that she ran as poorly as she did. I was shocked she ran the way she did. . . . She quit at the head of the stretch and that's not like her."

Exotic Wood had lost only once previously--by half a length in a memorable Santa Monica Handicap early last year at Santa Anita against Serena's Song--and had won eight races at five tracks in California and New York.

Ellis has since checked her from head to toe and she was given two sets of blood tests to see if anything was amiss.

"[The tests] came back perfect," he said. "Everything was 100%."

Exotic Wood has trained in the ensuing weeks as if all is well, so she could go it alone in the Milady, but there is some nagging doubt. A decision on Twice The Vice will be made either today or Sunday morning, according to Ellis.

"It's a tough call," he said. "[Exotic Wood] is acting great and everybody that's seen her work would say she's at least as good as she was last year.

"The kid who works her all the time for me said, 'Don't worry.' That's easy for him to say.

"But, she's been very strong and aggressive in her works. Her seven [furlongs] last week was phenomenal. She went in 1:24 4/5 with the last five-eighths in 59 3/5 and I had her galloping out in 1:37 3/5 and she did it without getting out of a high gallop.

"[The Golden Gate race] is baffling. I don't know. It rained up there for two days before she ran, so maybe the track was a little funny. But she's won at five different tracks, two times after shipping across the country, so it's hard to imagine she wouldn't handle the track at Golden Gate.

"I'm hoping she wins the race Sunday by five lengths and then I won't have to think about that anymore."

Twice The Vice, who had Ellis concerned, won the Hawthorne in workmanlike style the day before her stablemate's flop.

If she does run here, Twice The Vice, the defending Milady champion, will be ridden by Gary Stevens, who is named on five other horses Sunday, his first day back after riding in Europe for several days.

In fact, Ellis and the Wygods will be looking for their third consecutive Milady victory. They also won it with Pirate's Revenge in 1995. Before that, trainer Ron McAnally had won five of the previous six runnings.

The other entrants in the Milady are Call Me, Listening, Traces Of Gold, Chile Chatte and Radu Cool.

*

Today's feature at Hollywood Park is the $65,000-added Haggin Stakes for 2-year-olds.

Heading the field are the Wayne Lukas-trained entry of K.O. Punch and Double Honor and Jonathan's Oak, who broke his maiden impressively in his second start for trainer Jack Carava.

The Haggin is 5 1/2 furlongs.

Horse Racing Notes

Trainer Melody Conlon gained the first victory of her career when 7-2 shot Scoop Of Ice won the eighth race Thursday. . . . For the record: The actual lifetime record of Bayakoa, who died a week ago at 13, was 21 victories in 39 starts and earnings of $2,817,524. Her victories and earnings were reported incorrectly earlier this week.

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