Updated on 09/15/2011 12:23PM

Bienamado scaring no one away

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Michael J. Marten
Despite being widely considered the best grass horse in the country, Bienamado has eight opponents Sunday.

INGLEWOOD, Calif. - The perception that Bienamado is the best grass horse in the country has chased no one from the Grade 1 Charles Whittingham Handicap Sunday at Hollywood Park, where eight others will try to knock him off in a $350,000 turf race at 1 1/4 miles.

The Whittingham is the centerpiece of an appealing 10-race card that includes the Grade 2 Californian, which has attracted Hollywood Gold Cup candidates, and a $75,000 turf sprint stakes featuring Chilean speedster Separata. First post Sunday is noon.

Bienamado guns for his third Grade 1 victory in the Whittingham Handicap in race 9. It is his first start since winning the San Juan Capistrano in April. Carrying

124 pounds, Bienamado may not be invincible.

"Obviously if I'm running two horses, I don't think Bienamado is a cinch," said trainer Bobby Frankel. "I'm not taking anything away from him - he's a good horse and deserves to be favored - but he's giving weight away, and these are the best horses he's ever run against."

Frankel starts Senure and Timboroa, European imports who are Grade 3 winners in this country. The form of the Neil Drysdale-trained White Heart, however, suggests he is the main threat to Bienamado. White Heart, second highweight at

120 pounds, won the Whittingham last year, tailed off, and returned this May and won the Grade 1 Woodford Reserve at Churchill Downs. Drysdale also starts classified winner Bombard. Longshots Cagney, Raypour, Catchacoma, and Falcon Flight complete the field.

Bienamado's attributes are clear and neither Frankel nor Drysdale are claiming anything more than a fighting chance. Said Drysdale: "The problem with Bienamado is that he's a very good horse with a high cruising speed, and he can accelerate. So it's kind of a difficult situation."

In fact, Bienamado's armor has no obvious chinks. He enters the Whittingam fresh, starting for the first time in two months. Based on physical appearance and workouts, one expects a peak performance. Bienamado has won seven races and more than $1 million from 14 starts for owners Trudy McCaffery, John Toffan, and Robert Sangster. In seven United States starts for trainer Paco Gonzalez, Bienamado has five wins.

"He's doing good, otherwise I'd pass the race," Gonzalez said. "He's eating very good, he's happy, and you can see he hasn't lost a pound."

Bienamado, a 1,160-pound brute, looked sensational schooling Friday. A chestnut with the same distinctive blaze as sire Bien Bien, Bienamado breaks from post 8 under Chris McCarron.

The lack of a pure front-runner gives reason to consider Timboroa and Bombard potential upsetters.

Frankel said that Senure, 3 for 4 in the U.S., is ready to fire under Jerry Bailey, despite a seven-month layoff. Frankel won a Grade 1 race two weeks ago with Happyanunoit, who was off for six months. "[Senure] is fitter than Happyanunoit was, and he should have won the Whittingham last year," Frankel said. "He was 11 lengths off [six furlongs in] 1:14. He would have had to come home in 45 to win, which he almost did."

As for Timboroa, Frankel noted: "There's not going to be much speed, so he'll be laying right up there with Bienamado. He doesn't have that huge turn of foot, but he's a fighter. He's a nice horse, and the year is just starting for him."

Timboroa finished second in his May 13 comeback, and was subsequently flattered when the horse who beat him by a neck, Irish Prize, returned to win the Shoemaker Mile. David Flores rides Timboroa.

White Heart added front wraps when he returned from a seven-month layoff and the Woodford Reserve. According to Drysdale, the wraps are for protective purposes only; the playful 6-year-old gelding sometimes strikes himself. White Heart won the Whittingham with a forwardly placed trip last year, and Gary Stevens is expected to have him in a similar position Sunday.

Bombard has been pointed for the Whittingham since a clever allowance win April 21. Laffit Pincay Jr. rides.