05/07/2008 11:00PM

Champs Elysees clearly stands out


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - After Champs Elysees finished third in the $1 million Santa Anita Handicap on March 1, Humberto Ascanio, the assistant trainer for Bobby Frankel, remembers how jockey Ramon Dominguez repeatedly apologized for the horse's troubled trip.

"He thought it was his fault," Ascanio recalled. "He said, 'If I'd known the horse better, I could have had better luck.' He knows the horse now."

Dominguez has a chance for redemption when he rides Champs Elysees in Saturday's $250,000 Jim Murray Memorial Handicap at Hollywood Park. Champs Elysees will be a short-priced favorite in a small field in the Grade 2 Murray, which is run over 1 1/2 miles on turf.

Champs Elysees will be after his second stakes win of the year, having won the Grade 2 San Marcos at Santa Anita in January.

Ascanio expects a winning effort. "He's the kind of horse that can do whatever you want," he said. "He's a classy horse. If you want to go fast or slow, he can do it."

A winner of 3 of 14 starts and $520,647, Champs Elysees faces defending champion On the Acorn; Boule d'Or, the winner of the Grade 2 San Luis Rey Handicap in March; Church Service, who placed in two stakes earlier this year; and the Frankel-trained Sudan, who will be a longshot.

The race may have only four starters. Earlier this week, trainer Mike Mitchell said there was a chance that Church Service could be withdrawn.

On the Acorn is seeking his first win since the 2007 Murray. Winless in three starts this year, On the Acorn was fourth in the Grade 2 San Juan Capistrano Handicap at Santa Anita on April 20. Mitchell said he would have preferred if On the Acorn had been farther back early.

"I thought he was way too close," Mitchell said.

Mitchell doubts any of it will matter with a horse as talented as Champs Elysees in the field.

"I don't think anyone can beat that horse," Mitchell said. "I think we're all running for second money."

Boule d'Or will set the pace. He led by as many as 10 lengths in the San Luis Rey Stakes before holding off a late run from Porfido. Trainer Jeff Mullins is hopeful that Boule d'Or does not face early pressure in the Murray.

"If they leave him alone long enough and he gets a breather . . ." Mullins said. "I'm not sure there's anyone that wants to go with him."