07/01/2004 11:00PM

Bayamo looks much the best

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INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Patriotic chalk players will love the 5-year-old gelding Bayamo on Sunday at Hollywood Park. He meets easier after finishing second in a Grade 1 stakes, and he towers over four rivals in the Grade 2, $150,000 American Handicap at Hollywood Park.

Sarafan is the only other entrant proven as a top-class turf horse, but his current form is sketchy and the American is merely a prep for Del Mar. Other entrants include Cal-bred stakes winner Black Bart, claiming horse R McLennen, and front-runner Night Patrol. Based on class and condition, Bayamo stands head and shoulders over the field.

won 1 of 4 in France and began his U.S. campaign last June for trainer Julio Canani. But after two starts, an ankle chip cut short his campaign. This spring, he picked up where he left off with an impressive two-other-than allowance comeback win, followed by an enterprising attempt in the Grade 1 Charles Whittingham Handicap. Bayamo rallied to finish second in the 1 1/4- mile race, won by a loose-on-the-lead pacesetter.

"A week after the Whittingham, he was happy and on the muscle," Canani said, adding that he believes Bayamo will prefer the shorter 1 1/8-mile distance of the American.

"He's acting better now than before, and I think he's a mile-and-an-eighth horse," Canani said.

David Flores rides Bayamo, the 117-pound second highweight and certain favorite. Owned by Prestonwood Farm, Bayamo has won 3 of 8.

Sarafan, the 119-pound highweight, has won 9 of 39 and earned more than $2.4 million, but he is not exactly on his game. His last four starts show a 12th in Hong Kong, 10th in Dubai, fourth at Santa Anita, and 17th in Japan. Sarafan has never won on firm turf at Hollywood and is aiming for a bigger race.

Trainer Neil Drysdale said Sarafan is "training very well and looking very well."

Drysdale sald if everything goes well, Sarafan will run in the Eddie Read on July 25 at Del Mar and the Arlington Million in August.

Sarafan is 3 for 3 at Del Mar, including the Grade 1 Read in 2002, and is headed for a Del Mar showdown with the Canani-trained Special Ring. Special Ring is working super for his return and aiming to win the Read for the second straight year.

The remainder of the American field includes Black Bart, who has has earned more than $200,000 since trainer Troy Bainum claimed him for $16,000 in December. R McLennen steps up after wiring a $35,000 claimer and 8-year-old gelding Night Patrol makes his second start following a long layoff.