02/23/2004 12:00AM

Day trip pays for Southern Image

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ARCADIA, Calif. - It cost approximately $300 to ship Southern Image on a round-trip journey from Santa Anita to Hollywood Park for a seven-furlong workout on Saturday morning.

The vanning fees could turn out to be a wise investment by Southern Image's connections if the 4-year-old pulls an upset in the $1 million Santa Anita Handicap on March 6.

With the Santa Anita track closed for workouts on Saturday morning because of rain, trainer Mike Machowsky opted to ship across town after speaking with Hollywood Park's track superintendent, Dennis Moore.

Hollywood Park had not been hit with much rain, Machowsky was told, and the trainer desperately needed a workout to keep Southern Image on schedule for the Big Cap.

Southern Image worked seven furlongs in 1:22.60, a workout that Machowsky timed in 1:23.

"It was money well spent," Machowsky said. "He was back in his stall by 11."

Southern Image worked alone under jockey Victor Espinoza. Machowsky said Southern Image is likely to have a five-furlong workout just before the Big Cap.

"He went a little faster than I would have liked," he said. "He seemed to do it well within himself. It was very good. They hadn't had much rain over there. I needed a good work in him. I can go light with him through this bad weather."

Owned by a partnership, Southern Image is unbeaten in two starts at this meeting - the Grade 1 Malibu Stakes over seven furlongs on Dec. 26 and the $1 million Sunshine Millions Classic over 1 1/8 miles for California-breds and Florida-breds on Jan. 24.

The Santa Anita Handicap will be Southern Image's first start over 1 1/4 miles. The field is led by Pleasantly Perfect, the winner of three consecutive stakes, including the Breeders' Cup Classic last October and the San Antonio Handicap on Jan. 31.

Other candidates include Buddy Gil, Domestic Dispute, Olmodavor, Royal Place, Saint Buddy, Sarava, Star Cross, and Toccet.

Sarava is winless in three starts since scoring an upset in the 2002 Belmont Stakes at 70-1. At this meeting, he was ninth in a one-mile turf race on Jan. 22 and fifth in an allowance race over 1 1/16 miles on the main track on Feb. 14.

"His odds haven't gotten high enough for him to win yet," trainer, Bob Baffert said, jokingly. "He needs a mile and a quarter. I liked his last race. It was better than it looked. He was finally getting going."

Unfurl the Flag flirts with record time

Spectacular Bid's track record of 1:20 for seven furlongs, set in the 1980 Malibu Stakes, was nearly broken on Saturday by Unfurl the Flag in a $62,296 optional claimer.

On a track that played remarkably fast because of wet conditions, Unfurl the Flag was timed in 1:20.11, scoring the fourth win of his 14-race career.

Officially, Spectacular Bid was timed in 1:20 in an era when races were clocked to the fifth of a second. Spectacular Bid may have run anywhere from 1:20 flat to 1:20.19.

Trainer David Bernstein will be the first to admit that Unfurl the Flag is no Spectacular Bid, but he was still proud of the victory by his 4-year-old gelding.

Ridden by Mike Smith, Unfurl the Flag ($10) led throughout, winning by 4 1/2 lengths.

"The track was very fast. They made it hard and he liked it," Bernstein said. "Mike said he could have broken the record if he wanted to. He was impressive."

Owned by a partnership, Unfurl the Flag was claimed for $40,000 when he beat statebred maidens in August 2002. He placed in the Cavonnier Stakes that fall, but proved difficult to handle over the next 12 months.

Unfurl the Flag was gelded last fall because the colt was becoming dangerous, Bernstein said. "He was going to hurt himself," Bernstein said.

Since being gelded, Unfurl the Flag has won two sprints on dirt and lost two sprints on turf.

"Mike has said that if he gets his head in the game he could be as good as any around," Bernstein said. "When he gets a little maturity, there's no telling how good he will be."

Track passes inspection by riders

The wet conditions led to 18 scratches on Sunday's nine-race program and an 11-minute delay before the seventh race when five jockeys inspected part of the backstretch.

During the warm-up, one rider suspected there might be a hole near the race at the 4 1/2-furlong pole, but after walking the backstretch the riders decided the track was safe.

"We just had to check," said Kent Desormeaux, who rode third-place finisher Court Shenanigans.

O'Neill has two going to Dubai

Trainer Doug O'Neill will have two starters on the Dubai World Cup program - Fleetstreet Dancer for the $6 million World Cup and Inexcessivepleasure for the $1 million Godolphin Mile.

Both horses are owned by Ty and Lee Leatherman.

Fleetstreet Dancer, the upset winner of the Japan Cup Dirt last November, was third in his only start this year - the San Antonio Handicap.

Inexcessivepleasure was the champion California-bred 3-year-old male of 2003, but is winless in two starts this year. He was seventh in the San Fernando Stakes on Jan. 10 and 10th of 12 in the Sunshine Millions Classic.

"His last few races have been subpar for sure," O'Neill said. "We'll roll the dice. It's one of the few chances he has to run for $1 million."

Inexcessivepleasure won three stakes last year - the WinStar Derby at Sunland Park, the Iowa Derby at Prairie Meadows, and the Indiana Derby at Hoosier Park.

In the Godolphin Mile, he will attempt to become the second California-bred to win the race, following the success of Grey Memo in 2002.

"He's been very aggressive in his training," O'Neill said. "[The field] maybe a cut below our best milers - hopefully."

Graded stakes next for Cheiron

Cheiron will make his graded stakes debut on the weekend of March 13-14 after winning over 1 1/16 miles for the first time in a $62,296 allowance race on Friday.

Trained by Kristin Mulhall for a partnership, Cheiron is being considered for two races over 1 1/16 miles - the Grade 3, $200,000 El Camino Real Derby at Golden Gate Fields on March 13 or the $250,000 Grade 2 San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita on March 14.

Mulhall is not sure if Cheiron is a Kentucky Derby candidate or more suited to a race such as the $250,000 Snow Chief Stakes for California-breds at Hollywood Park on April 24.

"He'll go up to a mile and an eighth, past that we'll have to see," she said. "He never gallops out strongly. He pulls himself up."

Last Friday, Cheiron stalked the pace to the final turn, snuck through along the inside and scored by three-quarters of a length over a stubborn Dream Place.

The race was Cheiron's second win in seven starts. He won his maiden race in his fifth start on Jan. 10 and returned to finish a game second at 11-1 in the Sunshine Millions Dash on Jan. 24.

Cheiron tipped his recent form when he finished a game second in his debut last July at Del Mar. In his next start, he bled, forcing Mulhall to regroup.

"We had to go back and figure him out," she said. "He got to be a nervous horse and we had to let him chill out."

Racing careers over for two mares

Garden in the Rain and Southern Oasis, turf mares who placed in graded stakes last year, have been retired.

Garden in the Rain placed in four stakes last year, including second-place finishes in the Santa Ana and Buena Vista handicaps. Claimed for $50,000 in October 2002 by Richard Englander and trained by Jeff Mullins, Garden in the Rain won 8 of 34 starts and $436,629. She will be bred to War Chant.

Southern Oasis finished sixth in the Buena Vista Handicap on Saturday. She emerged from the race with an ankle injury.

Owned by Janis Whitham and trained by Ron McAnally, Southern Oasis, 6, won 4 of 16 starts and $186,402. Last year, she finished second in the Grade 3 Wilshire Handicap at Hollywood Park.

McAnally said Southern Oasis underwent X-rays on Sunday morning on the ankle, but that no major injury was revealed. McAnally said Southern Oasis will be given time to recover before being sent to Kentucky.