04/27/2006 11:00PM

'City Hall' going for the gold

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INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Gold Rush Day at Hollywood Park on Sunday offers Hollywood Park's answer to the California Cup races during the Oak Tree meeting. The intention is to salute the breeding industry and offer a display of its better wares.

It is a fact of life, however, that unless some ambitious sponsor or corporate owner comes along with a disproportionately large purse - like the $1 million dumped by Magna into the Sunshine Millions Classic along with its $500,000 supporting features - chances are the finest representatives of the local breed will be pointed elsewhere.

Tiznow, for instance, was withheld from the 2000 and 2001 runnings of the California Cup Classic in favor of Breeders' Cup Classic renewals at Churchill Downs and Belmont Park. This proved to be a cagey move by the owners and trainer Jay Robbins, since Tiznow won them both.

Upon achieving the unprecedented double, Tiznow was rewarded not only with retirement to stallion duty in Kentucky, but also a race on the Gold Rush card named in his honor. At the classic distance of 7 1/2 furlongs, no less.

It will occur to the provincial among us that Brother Derek would have been a stellar candidate for the main event on this year's Gold Rush card, the $250,000 Snow Chief Stakes for 3-year-olds at 1 1/8 miles on the main track. However, his people decided instead to take a shot at the $2 million Kentucky Derby six days later, and who can blame them? We'll see if they made the right move.

Even if horses like Tiznow and Brother Derek were to start showing up at these Cal-bred affairs, though, upsets can occur. It happened loudest back in 1991 when Best Pal, having already won the Pacific Classic, headlined the second running of the Cal Cup Classic. He was shocked by the older Charmonnier, owned by Bob and Barbara Walter.

This year's Gold Rush sets up such a possibility. Lava Man, the winner of back-to-back million-dollar events in the Sunshine Millions Classic and Santa Anita Handicap, will be going native on Sunday in the $150,000 Khaled Stakes at nine furlongs on the grass.

This can be looked upon as either a very sporting gesture by trainer Doug O'Neill and the partnership behind Lava Man, or as a sly way to keep the 5-year-old on edge, and cash a check as well, with the Hollywood Gold Cup on the horizon as his major goal of the early summer. The grass gives his appearance a nervous twist, since he was hardly the second coming of Round Table when he went 3 for 9 over the surface earlier in his career.

Without Brother Derek, the featured Snow Chief must settle for Da Stoops as the recognizeable name in a Cal-bred stakes context. He did finish third to Kentucky Derby hopefuls A. P. Warrior and Bob and John last November, which might be enough to get the job done, although he's never won beyond seven furlongs.

It was not enough, though, to scare away Bob Bone and his $40,000 claim Fighting City Hall, who will be making his stakes debut in the Snow Chief for trainer Jeff Mullins.

"For $250,000, I didn't think the race came up all that tough," Bone said. "Sam's Ace is a deserving favorite, but he only beat us three lengths last time. So it's worth a shot."

Fighting City Hall was bred by B. Wayne Hughes from a mating of Smart Strike and his Nureyev mare Grant a Wish, and was entered first time out on Jan. 15 by Warren Stute for a $40,000 tag. He won by 4 1/2 lengths.

"For the money he was very well bred, and the workout reports were good," Bone said. "I try not to claim the obvious horse, because most of the time they're in there for a reason. But this guy added up so well I was concerned I missed something. I asked Jeff to take a good look. The horse was sound, so we made a good claim."

Fighting City Hall won a subsequent allowance race at Santa Anita, contributing to Bone's meet leading total, then ran well without winning in two subsequent starts.

"He's still a little immature ment-ally, so I think there's a lot of room for him to improve that way," Bone said. "And he drew outside for Sunday's race, which I think will help."

Bone can only hope Fighting City Hall pans out as well as his most famous $40,000 claim of a first-time starter. That would be Choctaw Nation, who went on to win $1.2 million before Bone sold him earlier this year to the son of Sheikh Mohammed al Maktoum, ruler of Dubai, to run in the $6 million Dubai World Cup. Choctaw Nation had finished third in the 2005 running of the World Cup for Bone.

"It was tough to say goodbye," Bone said. "But the money will go right back into the game, and allows me to play the game at the level I like to play."

Did he want to share the final purchase price?

"No, I promised the buyers I wouldn't," Bone said. "And I would like to be invited back to Dubai."