10/08/2002 11:00PM

Argentine experiment commences

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ARCADIA, Calif. - The presence of Star Cross in Friday's seventh race at Santa Anita represents the start of an experiment for trainer Darrell Vienna and several of his clients.

Earlier this year, Vienna went on a buying spree in Argentina, returning with a large group purchased primarily on appearance. Star Cross was a prospect who not only caught Vienna's eye, but had good form. A 5-year-old, he has won 6 of 15 starts and finished third in the Group 1 Estrellas Classic over 1 1/4 miles on the main track in June, his most recent start.

Friday, Star Cross is one of eight entrants in a $60,000 allowance race over about 6 1/2 furlongs on the hillside turf course.

"This is a start for him," Vienna said. "He's pretty versatile. I don't feel comfortable guessing what they'll be. I went down there and bought them off looks. They've gotten to the races pretty quickly."

Star Cross will be ridden by Jose Valdivia Jr., and is part of a tough field. The allowance race could produce a few starters for the $100,000 Morvich Handicap over the same course and distance on Nov. 4.

F.J.'s Pace is the likely favorite. A 7-year-old trained by Doug O'Neill, F.J.'s Pace won the Aprisa Handicap over six furlongs at Fairplex Park on Sept. 18, and has excelled on the hillside turf course in the past. Last winter, he made five starts on the hill, won twice and was never worse than third. Laffit Pincay Jr. has the mount.

F.J.'s Pace can lead or stalk, which gives Pincay options against the speedy Lookn East, who has good form on the hillside course, and Capo di Capo, who has been stakes-placed but is winless in the last 18 months.

If the pace is too quick, Macward could be in an ideal place. A 6-year-old gelding, Macward has not started since finishing seventh in the Grade 3 San Simeon Handicap on April 21. Trained by Ian Jory, he won the Sensational Star Handicap last January, and has won 4 of 9 starts on the hillside in his 34-race career.

Those runners will give Star Cross a good test in his U.S. debut and first start for owner Ernest Auerbach. Despite running in a distance race in his last start, Star Cross has run well in sprints, having finished second in the Group 1 Estrellas Sprint over five furlongs in June 2001.

The experience could be vital on Friday.

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