07/22/2005 11:00PM

Courtly Jazz just needs a little luck

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DEL MAR, Calif. - After winning three consecutive races during the winter at Santa Anita, Courtly Jazz has struggled against tougher competition in three starts in the spring and summer.

Bad luck has played a role in two recent defeats, which is why trainer Gary Mandella is optimistic that Courtly Jazz can play a leading role in an optional claimer worth $70,000 over 1 1/16 miles on turf at Del Mar on Monday.

"I'm not worried about his effort," Mandella said. "He tries hard every time."

Courtly Jazz finished second in the Rolling Green Breeders' Cup Handicap at Golden Gate Fields on June 4, but was disqualified and placed third for drifting out under jockey Chad Schvaneveldt.

"He should have won the stakes up north," Mandella said. "The jockey moved too soon and panicked. It wasn't the horse's fault."

In his most recent start at Hollywood Park on July 3, Courtly Jazz rallied from eighth in the final furlong to finish fourth in an optional claimer over 1 1/16 miles on turf under jockey Gary Stevens.

"Gary might have waited too long," Mandella said.

Courtly Jazz's biggest threat is probable favorite Grafton, who is winless in five starts this year. Trained by Neil Drysdale, Grafton was fifth behind Courtly Jazz at Hollywood Park on July 3 and was a close second in two starts earlier at the Hollywood meeting.

Both Courtly Jazz and Grafton are closers who should have pace to follow from Royal Price and We All Love Aleyna.

Royal Price and Gold Ruckus, who will be longshots, are entered to be claimed for $100,000. Royal Price was sixth in the Grade 3 San Simeon Handicap at Santa Anita in April. We All Love Aleyna and Gold Ruckus were eighth and 10th behind Courtly Jazz on July 3.

Cheiron, trained by Kristin Mulhall, is a stalker with a chance for an upset. Winless in eight starts since the Snow Chief Stakes at Hollywood Park in April 2004, Cheiron was third in an optional claimer on the main track at Hollywood in June. He was fifth in the Khaled Stakes on turf at Hollywood in April.

Mulhall said a factor in the losing streak has been a bout of bleeding.

"He started bleeding really bad and lost his confidence," Mulhall said. "I'm hoping he's getting his confidence back."