01/30/2004 12:00AM

Bluesthestandard looks beatable


PHOENIX - For most of the past 20 years, Southern California has been home to the world's best sprinters. Not to ignore the feats of Smile, Groovy, Honour and Glory, and other top sprinters based elsewhere, but for the most part California speed has been the benchmark.

Yet lately, there's been a changing of the guard. Southern Cal sprinters Kona Gold, Big Jag, and Swept Overboard left big shoes that have not been filled. Last year the best sprinters were Aldebaran, Congaree, Beau's Town, Cajun Beat, and Shake You Down. Of those, only Congaree belongs to the West Coast.

In the Breeders' Cup Sprint, a one-time claimer by the name of Bluesthestandard nearly held up the West Coast's rep with a strong runner-up performance. But Bluesthestandard, now 7, is no Kona Gold, and he might not do well against a couple of relative youngsters in Sunday's Grade 2 Palos Verdes at Santa Anita over six furlongs.

Bluesthestandard won two stakes in 2003, one the Texas Mile at Lone Star. He hasn't won a sprint since the Grade 2 Potrero Grande at Santa Anita last March, which was part of a five-race winning streak.

Bluesthestandard hasn't run since his second to Cajun Beat in the BC Sprint, but he has worked well. His trainer, Ted West, is enthused about Bluesthestandard's prospects this year, particularly since the Breeders' Cup will be held at a track Bluesthestandard loves, Lone Star Park.

But on Sunday, Bluesthestandard will have to be at his best to defeat some talented opponents.

One of them is Marino Marini, who comes off a smashing try in the Grade 1 Malibu, an effort flattered by the winner Southern Image, who came back and romped in the Sunshine Millions Classic last week. Another is Captain Squire, who ran a 117 Beyer when he won the Sunshine Millions Sprint at Santa Anita a year ago. Boston Common is a Grade 2 stakes winner on the East Coast, a stakes winner in northern California, and the recent winner of the Grade 3 El Conejo at Santa Anita.

It might be time for yet another new face to surface - Summer Service, who was beaten a neck by Boston Common in the El Conejo after going to his nose at the start.

"The horse broke terrible last time," said his trainer, Bill Spawr. "If you see the head-on, you'll see that he stumbled badly."

Summer Service was claimed by Spawr for $62,500 last June and in six starts since has won one race, run second three times and third once. His versatility is key. He has the speed to be up on a sizzling pace if need be and the patience to settle and make a run later on, as he did in the El Conejo and, before that, in the Cal Cup Sprint.

Summer Service worked a fast five furlongs in 59.80 seconds Sunday, signaling he is ready for the Palos Verdes. Considering that no horse has a proven edge in the sprint division out West, maybe he'll be the king for a day.

Turf champ voters get it wrong

Someone's going to have to explain this to me. High Chaparral wins the Eclipse Award as turf champion - by a lot - based on one race, which he won in a dead heat. Why is he voted champion while Johar, who dead-heated with him in the BC Turf, is not? Johar at least won the Grade 2 San Marcos. High Chaparral had won nothing else in the U.S. I don't see why we give awards to horses based on their European form. How does one separate High Chaparral from Johar?

Perhaps High Chaparral was the most talented horse. But that's what the Free Handicap is for; make him the highweight if you like. But it is Storming Home who deserved the Eclipse award based on his North American campaign. He won the Grade 1 Charles Whittingham, Grade 1 Clement Hirsch, and for all intents and purposes the Grade 1 Arlington Million. (He finished first but was disqualified for interference right at the wire.)

The voters got it right back in 1987, the year Theatrical had a phenomenal season but lost the one time he faced Manila, in the Arlington Million. Manila was not seen again and Theatrical's campaign was dazzling (five Grade 1 wins). Manila was the highweight on the Free Handicap, and Theatrical won the Eclipse.

I'm not as miffed at Islington being named female turf champ, though I still don't see how you can tell me her BC Filly & Mare Turf win made her more deserving of the award than Six Perfections's BC Mile win. But certainly Heat Haze had the most productive season, right?

I'd like to see the voters give a horse's campaign more weight than one big day or one big performance. They did it right with Aldebaran and Cajun Beat this year in the voting for champion sprinter. But generally this kind of voting is not rewarding our horses, owners, or trainers, and is sending the wrong message: that sustained excellence means less than one big race shortly before the ballots go out.