01/17/2008 12:00AM

Champs Elysees seeking clean trip

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Benoit & Associates
Champs Elysees will be a heavy favorite in Saturday's Grade 2 San Marcos Stakes.

ARCADIA, Calif. - The backers of Champs Elysees could only look on in frustration when he finished second to Sunriver in the Grade 1 Hollywood Turf Cup, unable to overcome trouble on the final turn.

Judging from the way Champs Elysees finished that race, a similar setback is unlikely in Saturday's $150,000 San Marcos Stakes at Santa Anita. Trained by Bobby Frankel for Juddmonte Farms, Champs Elysees, 5, will be a heavy favorite in the Grade 2 race over 1 1/4 miles on turf.

Frankel, for one, refuses to dwell on the Turf Cup result. Champs Elysees was fifth or sixth on the backstretch under jockey Julien Leparoux, moved into third on the turn, but was stuck in traffic in early stretch. Champs Elysees was clear with more than a furlong remaining but could not catch Sunriver.

"It's hard to say" whether he would have won, Frankel said. "He would have been a lot closer. It would have been tough running that horse down. He set a slow pace.

"It wasn't the jockey's fault. He got stuck behind slow horses."

Leparoux has since relocated to Fair Grounds in New Orleans. Garrett Gomez will ride Champs Elysees, a winner of 2 of 12 starts. Last year in Europe, Champs Elysees won a Group 3 race over about 1 1/2 miles in Paris in May, his only win in six starts. He was later second or third in three group stakes, including the Group 1 Gran Premio del Jockey Club in Italy in October, his final start on that continent.

Frankel said he is "hopeful" that Champs Elysees can develop into the sort of horse that can run in the Arlington Million at Arlington Park in August or Breeders' Cup Turf, which will be run at Santa Anita in October.

The San Marcos includes one runner from last year's field - Obrigado, who finished third. He later won the Grade 2 San Luis Obispo Handicap but is winless in his last six starts, including a fourth in the Hollywood Turf Cup last month.

Ramazutti is making his first start since finishing last of eight in the Grade 1 Sword Dancer Stakes at Saratoga last August. Trained by Todd Pletcher, Ramazutti won the Grade 2 Mac Diarmida Handicap at Gulfstream Park last January, his only win in a seven-race campaign.

Pletcher also starts the improving Rocket Legs, who is making his stakes debut in his 10th start. Rocket Legs has won 3 of his last 4 starts, all at distances of 1 3/16 miles or farther.