06/21/2002 12:00AM

Chalky Came Home - he's gotta carry that weight

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INGLEWOOD, Calif. - The heat of battle is no place for sentimentality, and the Grade 3 Affirmed Handicap on Sunday at Hollywood Park is by no means a foregone conclusion.

"It's a tough race," Came Home's trainer Paco Gonzalez said, "especially with the weight he carries."

Although Gonzalez was referring to the 124 pounds Came Home will pack in his first start since the Kentucky Derby, he could have been talking about the burden of expectations. Even if Came Home was not the best horse in the 1 1/16-mile stake for 3-year-olds, he would have been the odds-on sentimental choice in the final race of Chris McCarron's illustrious career.

The Grade 3, $100,000 Affirmed goes as race 7 on the nine-race card, and while it drew eight entrants, only five are confirmed to start. In addition to Came Home, they include Tracemark, 120 pounds; Fonz's, 119; Calkins Road, 116; and Kamsack, 115.

The most likely upsetter is front-runner Kamsack, whose trainer, Chris Paasch, would not mind spoiling McCarron's going-away party.

"Chris knows we're all hoping we can win the race, and I wouldn't mind beating him," Paasch said, adding "I would shake his head, give him a hug, wish him well, then walk into the winner's circle."

The idea is not far-fetched. Kamsack, runner-up last summer in the Grade 2 Del Mar Futurity, returned from a seven-month layoff May 27 to finish a close third in the seven-furlong Laz Barrera. On Sunday, Kamsack may set the pace under Kent Desormeaux.

"If there's a Crafty Prospector that can go a route, he's it," Paasch said.

In fact, 1 1/16 miles is well within range, and the nine-pound weight break Kamsack receives is significant. Of course, Kamsack won't have an easy time up front. Came Home is a presser, always positioned near the lead. Came Home has trained well since returning from his sixth-place finish in the Derby, and would provide a fitting finale for McCarron.

"[Came Home] has been really fun to deal with because he's so kind and generous," McCarron said. "He doesn't have any bad habits. He is very, very cooperative and because he has won some important races already like the Hopeful and the Santa Anita Derby, it's been a real good feeling of accomplishment."

McCarron has breezed Came Home six times since the Derby, and said the colt is training "very, very well." He also is the class of the field, having won six races and $871,440 from eight starts.

While the Affirmed is considered a prep for the $500,00 Swaps Stakes on July 14, Gonzalez reiterated at entry time that the main summer goal for Came Home is the Grade 1 King's Bishop, a seven-furlong race for 3-year-olds on Aug. 24 at Saratoga.

"We would have time to freshen him up if we wait for the King's Bishop," Gonzalez said. "If he goes in the Swaps, it would be hard to back him up to a sprint again." Ultimately, Gonzalez said "I would love to run him a mile on grass."

Beyond Kamsack and Came Home, the main contention includes Tracemark and Fonz's. Tracemark won the California Derby in April and finished second in the Grade 3 Lone Star Derby in his most recent start on May 11. Fonz's won the Grade 3, seven-furlong Hollywood Prevue last fall, but remains unproven around two turns. In all three route races, he lost ground the final eighth. Fonz's comes in off a third-place finish in the Laz Barrera. Calkins Road won the Snow Chief Stakes for California-breds in his last start April 28 and is facing open company for the first time. Three others are starters: Gobi Dan, True Phenomenon, and Laffit.

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