04/30/2007 12:00AM

Buzzards Bay poised for encore

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INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Buzzards Bay won 2 of 4 starts and $503,036 in a 2006 campaign cut short by injury. His trainer, Ron Ellis, thinks that Buzzards Bay can do better this year.

"He seems like a much better horse than last year," Ellis said. "I think the time off has done him well."

Ellis will know by the end of the summer whether his opinion is correct. Buzzards Bay will make his first start in nearly 11 months in Saturday's $150,000 Mervyn Leroy Handicap over 1 1/16 miles. Buzzards Bay's main goal for the summer is the $750,000 Hollywood Gold Cup on June 30, Ellis said.

The Grade 2 Mervyn LeRoy will be a proper test for Buzzards Bay, who won the 2005 Santa Anita Derby and finished fifth in the Kentucky Derby.

"It's as fit as I'd want to get him," Ellis said. "He won't be 100 percent, but he'll be 85 or 90 percent. It's too bad we can't get allowance races to fill around here because there has been no place else to run."

The LeRoy field is expected to include Billy Allen, Bravo Maestro, Cimyla, C'mon Tiger, and Molengao. Molengao, second in the Santa Anita Handicap in March, will go favored.

After Market, Red Fort rematch likely

The first three finishers of Saturday's Grade 3 Inglewood Handicap - After Market, Red Fort, and Willow O Wisp - are bound for Grade 1 stakes, but not for the same race.

After Market and Red Fort will be pointed for the $300,000 Charles Whittingham Memorial Handicap over 1 1/4 miles on turf on June 9. Willow O Wisp will start in the $300,000 Shoemaker Breeders' Cup Mile on May 28.

Judging from the way that After Market finished the Inglewood over 1o1/16 miles on turf, the Whittingham distance should be within his range, jockey Alex Solis said. After Market has never run 1o1/4 miles.

"In the last sixteenth, he changed leads," Solis said. "I hit him a couple of times and he really leveled off and took off running. Very amazing."

Red Fort was making his first start since July, a layoff caused by injury. He was second in the 2005 Whittingham, beaten a head, and was third in the 2006 Whittingham.

Willow O Wisp set the pace in the Inglewood and finished 2 3/4 lengths behind After Market. The race was Willow O Wisp's second start since returning from a layoff.

"He was pressured a little more than I would have liked," trainer Vladimir Cerin said. "I still think his third race off the layoff will be his best and he probably won't be pressured as much in the Shoemaker. That's still our goal and I'm quite confident he'll be a major factor."

Initial numbers encouraging

Boosted by a three-day pick six carryover that stretched to Saturday's program, Hollywood Park ended the first week of its spring-summer meeting with a substantial increase in betting compared to the start of the 2006 meeting.

The total ontrack handle was $9,208,367, a gain of 10.6 percent over 2006. The all-sources handle of $62,169,434 improved by 24 percent. The ontrack attendance was down 122 people - 33,396 this year compared with 33,518 in 2006.

Last week's largest crowd was on Friday night, 9,187.

The pick six carryover reached $1,481,038 for Saturday's card. Bettors added $3,239,367 and the bet was hit that day for $46,492 on 71 tickets.

Sunday's program had a guaranteed pick six pool of $1 million for the California Gold Rush program. The pool reached $1,059,069. There were two winning tickets worth $293,594.

Snow Chief still buff at 24

Snow Chief, the champion 3-year-old male of 1986, led the post parade for the $250,000 stakes that carries his name on Sunday.

Now 24, Snow Chief's sleek appearance drew many compliments around the racetrack from horsemen. He received a rousing ovation from the ontrack crowd of 9,099 when introduced during the post parade.

The winner of such notable races as the Florida Derby, Santa Anita Derby, and Preakness Stakes in 1986 and the Strub Stakes and Oaklawn Handicap in 1987, Snow Chief is currently at stud at Eagle Oak Ranch in Paso Robles, Calif. During his racing career, he won 13 of 24 starts and $3,383,210.

Snow Chief's owner, Diane Rochelle, said she has bred "four or five mares" to Snow Chief this year, and is hoping to attract a few stakes-caliber mares. "I would let them breed to him for free," she said.

Talamo will sit for three days

Apprentice jockey Joe Talamo, the leading rider after the first week of this meeting, will not ride from Wednesday through Friday after being given a three-day suspension for causing interference on April 22 at Santa Anita.

Through Sunday, Talamo had 9 wins, 2 more than Victor Espinoza. Talamo had 3 wins on Saturday and 2 on Sunday.

Former trainer McCutcheon dies

Dorothy McCutcheon, a former trainer and the wife of retired trainer J.R. McCutcheon, died of congestive heart failure on April 25, according to her daughter Sally Valenti. She was 80.

McCutcheon trained at tracks such as Finger Lakes, Golden Gate Fields, Suffolk Downs, and Turf Paradise in the 1970s before moving to California. She continued to work with her husband, known as Coach, until his retirement.

"She was someone who loved the game and wanted to make it work," Valenti said.

Funeral services will be private. The family suggests that a donation in McCutcheon's name be made to two California-based horse retirement charities - Tranquility Farm or the California Equine Retirement Foundation.