06/15/2005 11:00PM

Borrego tries to shed seconditis


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - With Santa Anita Handicap winner Rock Hard Ten only in light training, there is no clear leader in the California handicap division and few horses that merit national attention.

That could change after Saturday's $250,000 Californian Stakes at Hollywood Park, the top prep for the $750,000 Hollywood Gold Cup on July 9.

The eight entrants of the Grade 2 Californian will be trying to score, or in one case equal, their biggest career wins. Only Choctaw Nation has won a purse this large - in the San Diego Handicap last summer at Del Mar.

Trained by Jeff Mullins, may go favored. He is making his first start since a third-place finish in the $6 million Dubai World Cup in the Middle East on March 26. Choctaw Nation was supplemented to the Californian for $5,000 when entries were taken on Thursday.

Of the other seven, Ace Blue and Borrego, the first- and third-place finishers of the Grade 2 Mervyn LeRoy Handicap over 1 1/16 miles here on May 14, are expected to play major roles.

Saturday's race marks first start since being purchased privately by Sid and Jenny Craig and turned over to trainer Jerry Hollendorfer last month.

Borrego, third in the Santa Anita Handicap in March, is searching for his first stakes win. Borrego has been second in five stakes, including the Louisiana, Arkansas, and Super derbies last year.

Trainer Beau Greely said he thinks that Borrego is on the verge of a breakthrough race.

"There are some nice horses in there but nothing to dodge," Greely said of the Californian field. He admits the same goes for .

"I don't think people dodge him. He hasn't won a stakes. I hope he can get one of these and keep it going this summer."

Greely likes the Californian distance of 1 1/8 miles, because he said he feels that Borrego, by El Prado, will excel over the longer trip.

"The added distance should help," Greeley said. "I think a mile and a quarter is his best distance. He's trained beautifully."

Aside from Ace Blue, three other horses are coming off wins in races over 1 1/16 miles - Keep on Punching, Lava Man, and Molengao.

Keep on Punching won an optional claimer on June 4 for his third consecutive win. Lava Man, second in the Grade 1 Malibu Stakes last December, won an optional claimer on May 14.

Molengao won an allowance race on April 23. The Californian marks his stakes debut for trainer Paulo Lobo, the previous trainer of Ace Blue.