11/27/2002 12:00AM

Aging foes can keep pace in Express


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Two years after El Cielo edged Texas Glitter by a neck in the $200,000 Hollywood Turf Express the pair meet again in the same race on Friday at Hollywood Park.

In 2000, both were in peak form and having their most lucrative seasons. Despite their advanced ages, both are still capable of winning the Turf Express, which will be run at 5 1/2 furlongs.

The 8-year-old El Cielo has made just seven starts since winning the 2000 Turf Express, which came at the end of a season in which he earned a career-best $357,285. This year, El Cielo has made just two starts, finishing second in a one-mile turf race at Santa Anita in January and fifth in the Grade 3 Morvich Handicap at Santa Anita on Nov. 3.

"Age is catching up with him," trainer Craig Dollase said. "He's had his ailments along the way."

A gelding, El Cielo has been helped by his stalking running style. Even in turf sprints, his style allows riders to wait a few furlongs before launching a rally that led to victories in 13 of El Cielo's 22 starts.

"I hope there is some pressure to soften up Texas Glitter," Dollase said.

The 6-year-old Texas Glitter is well-traveled. Last year, he finished fourth in the 2001 Turf Express, losing to the Dollase-trained Swept Overboard. This year, Texas Glitter has started at seven different tracks.

Trained by Todd Pletcher, Texas Glitter is in outstanding form, having won the Calder Turf Sprint Handicap on Oct. 12. Following Friday's Turf Express, Texas Glitter will start in a turf sprint in Hong Kong before being retired to stud.

Texas Glitter can lead early, but is just as effective from a stalking position.

El Cielo and Texas Glitter have only three opponents - Malabar Gold, Mighty Beau, and Rocky Bar.

Mighty Beau, who has been second or third in turf sprints at Kentucky Downs, Keeneland, and Arlington Park, is the lone 3-year-old in the field. Malabar Gold and Rocky Bar are returning from layoffs.

Malabar Gold won the Grade 3 San Simeon Handicap at Santa Anita in April, but has made only two subsequent starts. He finished second in the Jaipur Handicap at Belmont Park and third in an allowance race at Del Mar on dirt.

Rocky Bar is the likely pacesetter. Sixth in the 2001 Turf Express, Rocky Bar was the front-running winner of an $80,000 claimer over this course and distance in July.

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