04/23/2003 11:00PM

Ageless Native Desert eyes repeat


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - There is very little left for Native Desert to accomplish.

A former maiden claimer, he has earned more than $1.7 million, won 21 races, and developed a following as a regional star.

Along the way, one of Native Desert's annual stops has been the $175,000 Khaled Stakes at Hollywood Park. He won the turf race for California-breds in 1998, finished third in 2001 and scored another victory last year.

If he wins the 13th running on Saturday, the 10-year-old Native Desert will become the oldest stakes winner in Hollywood Park history. The record is held by John Henry, who won two stakes at 9 in 1984.

Native Desert has made only one start this year, finishing fourth in an optional claimer on the Santa Anita hillside turf course on April 3. Appearing to be hopelessly beaten on the hillside, he rallied under Gary Stevens to finish 4 3/4 lengths behind the winner, Islander.

To trainer Juan Garcia, that sprint was the ideal prep for Saturday's Khaled Stakes, run over 1 1/8 miles on turf.

"The horse is sharp," he said. "He ran good the other day."

The April 3 prep was Native Desert's first start since returning from injury.

Stevens stays with Native Desert, who drew the rail and faces eight opponents. Native Desert must beat, among others: Yougottawanna, who was supplemented for $7,500; Sea to See, who was third in the Crystal Water Handicap at Hollywood Park last month; and Continental Red, the 2002 California-bred horse of the year.

Spinelessjellyfish finished second by a half-length in the Grade 3 San Simeon Handicap at Santa Anita last Saturday, but trainer Jenine Sahadi said his appearance in the entries does not guarantee that he will start.

Sea to See was claimed for $62,500 on Feb. 3 and made his first start for trainer Doug O'Neill in the Crystal Water.

"We claimed with the hope of doing what we're doing," O'Neill said. "It could pay off."

Continental Red has not had an ideal preparation, trainer Ian Jory said.

Following unplaced finishes in the $1 million Sunshine Millions Classic on dirt on Jan. 25 and the Grade 2 San Luis Obispo Handicap on Feb. 15, the 7-year-old Continental Red was given a month off at owner Sharon and Wes Fitzpatrick's farm.

He returned to Jory's stable at Hollywood Park in March.

"I would like to have had one more work, but I think we're close enough," Jory said.

Continental Red was effective over 1 1/8 miles on the main track last year, winning the Great State Challenge Classic and finishing second in the California Cup Classic.

On turf last year, he won the San Luis Rey Handicap and was a close second in the Sunset Handicap, both over 1 1/2 miles. The shorter turf distance of the Khaled Stakes does not concern Jory.

"The fact that this race is shorter could help," Jory said, referring to Continental Red's level of fitness.