05/27/2004 11:00PM

'Dempsey' could get perfect setup

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INGLEWOOD, Calif. - The lesson was learned in a sleepy weekday allowance race and can pay off in a weekend stakes for . Having learned to ration her speed, The Dempsey Look must be considered the one to beat Sunday in the $75,000 Manhattan Beach Stakes at Hollywood Park.

A field of eight 3-year-old fillies entered the 5 1/2-furlong turf sprint, which attracted a host of one-dimensional speedballs. Absolute Nectar, Allswellthatnswell, and Very Vegas have just one option - speed to the lead. Their conflicting styles could set it up for the several closers, including dropper Winendynme and improving Dynalook. It's a good thing for The Dempsey Look that she learned to rate.

In a prerace strategy session April 22, trainer Mike Mitchell and jockey Corey Nakatani determined The Dempsey Look might be more effective if Nakatani could settle her early. The Dempsey Look followed the blueprint. Nakatani did not ask her for speed or anchor her, and The Dempsey Look responded on her own.

The Dempsey Look settled midpack, rallied three-wide through the turn, took aim into the lane, and won going away with an 88 Beyer Figure, which makes her the one to beat Sunday. It was her second win from five starts.

"I think she'll be a real nice filly," Mitchell said. "One thing I don't know is how far she'll run."

She won't need to run far Sunday. At 5 1/2 furlongs, the Manhattan Beach is the meet's shortest stakes for 3-year-old fillies. It gives hope to front-runners such as Very Vegas, the 122-pound highweight. Very Vegas drew the rail and is stuck inside the rest of the speed, but she has survived pace battles in the past. Very Vegas has won five of 11, including minor stakes races at Bay Meadows, Turf Paradise, and a downhill turf sprint at Santa Anita.

Trained by Marcelo Polanco, Very Vegas is the most accomplished in the field, but the pace dynamics are all wrong. Speedsters Absolute Nectar and Allswellthatnswell each have aggressive jockeys aboard (Tyler Baze and Patrick Valenzuela, respectively), and neither is likely to take back. The race sets up for a closer.

While The Dempsey Look's sharp works since her last race suggest she continues to improve, offers a sensible alternative. Trained by Jenine Sahadi, Winendynme shortens from a two-turn mile and will put in an honest late run. Nicole and Ben also shortens up to a sprint after finishing third behind Yearly Report and Western Hemisphere in a two-turn stakes for Cal-breds.