07/22/2005 12:00AM

'Choctaw' has good shot to end drought


DEL MAR, Calif. - Nearly a year has passed since Choctaw Nation won the $250,000 San Diego Handicap at Del Mar to stretch his unbeaten streak to five.

He has not won in four starts since the 2004 San Diego. Choctaw Nation was a game third in the $6 million Dubai World Cup on March 26 and fifth in the Grade 2 Californian Stakes at Hollywood Park on June 18.

Sunday, can end that losing streak when he attempts to defend his title in the Grade 2 San Diego Handicap over 1 1/16 miles.

Even though Choctaw Nation is coming off the worst loss of his nine-race career in the Californian, owner Bob Bone and trainer Jeff Mullins said they expect him to rebound in the San Diego.

Along with jockey Victor Espinoza, they argue that Choctaw Nation does not like the Hollywood Park surface.

"After he ran badly in the Californian, everyone said, 'It's Dubai, Dubai,' " Bone said.

Espinoza told Bone that when Choctaw Nation worked at Santa Anita, "he felt like a light horse, but at Hollywood Park he felt like a heavy horse," Bone said. "Victor just felt he didn't like it."

Choctaw Nation has five rivals in the San Diego, a prep to the $1 million Pacific Classic on Aug. 21. Ace Blue, the winner of the Grade 2 Mervyn LeRoy Handicap at Hollywood Park in May, is the 117-pound starting highweight in the San Diego.

A closer, Choctaw Nation should have ample pace to follow from . Bear in the Woods and Harvard Avenue also start.

Keep on Punching had a three-race winning streak end with a sixth in the Hollywood Gold Cup on July 9. Preachinatthebar, who won the Grade 2 San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita in 2004, won two allowance races at Hollywood Park in the spring by racing near the front.

Choctaw Nation has drawn the rail and will carry 115 pounds.

"I'd be surprised he doesn't run a big race," Bone said.

Mullins said he was not concerned about Choctaw Nation's inside post, since Choctaw Nation will be off the pace early.

"He likes to be back there by himself, anyway," said Mullins.

Last year, Choctaw Nation rallied from nearly 10 lengths off the pace to beat Pleasantly Perfect in the San Diego. This year, he will need the same rally to end a year-long losing streak.