05/07/2003 11:00PM

Denon capable of firing fresh


NEW YORK - The richest race in the nation Saturday may be the $500,000 Lone Star Derby, which Dynever, who promises to be terribly overbet, figures to win. But, the strongest card of the day is at Hollywood Park, where a stakes tripleheader will take place. Hollywood's headliner is the $400,000 Jim Murray Memorial Handicap, which has come up the strongest turf race in the country so far this year, and it is supported by the $200,000 Los Angeles Times Handicap, and the $150,000 Mervyn LeRoy Handicap, which both drew solid fields.

There also is a stakes doubleheader at Belmont Park, which on Saturday celebrates its opening weekend with the $200,000 Nassau County Breeders' Cup Stakes and the $100,000 Bold Ruler Handicap. It is also opening weekend at Arlington Park, where Saturday's feature is the $100,000 Black Tie Affair Handicap.

Here are my three spotlight races:

Jim Murray Memorial

The Tin Man looks imposing here, with that 9 1/2-length romp and 111 Beyer Speed Figure jumping off the paper at you from his last start, the San Luis Obispo. Ballingarry, very impressive winner of the Canadian International last fall, figures to be set for a big effort second start off a layoff. But, The Tin Man probably won't be allowed to absolutely walk on the lead like he did most recently, and Ballingarry won't get the soft turf that he may prefer. So, my selection is Denon.

Denon hasn't raced in more than six months, since the Breeders' Cup Turf. I'm hoping the fact that he didn't come off the shelf firing last year and the depth of this field will help his price. Certainly, the presence of Jerry Bailey, who left his New York base for this mount, will not help Denon's odds.

Denon's losses in his first two starts of 2002 may be attributable to the fact they occurred at Santa Anita. Since those losses at Santa Anita were decidedly inferior to Denon's other performances in this country, he probably just does not like the turf course there.

There is no question Denon loves the turf at Hollywood Park, however. He won the Grade 1 Hollywood Derby in his North American debut, and he won the Grade 1 Charlie Whittingham Handicap in his only other start there. Denon's other Grade 1 win in this country came in the Turf Classic at Belmont last fall, in which he proved he can win at 1 1/2 miles.

Mervyn LeRoy

Sunday Break could not have performed worse in two comeback starts over the winter. But he came to life in a turf experiment last time out, and I'm going with him here as he switches back to the dirt.

Sunday Break's experiment on turf came in the Arcadia Handicap. He finished third, beaten only a half-length for the win, and just a head for second by Gondolieri, who came back to win the Inglewood Handicap last Saturday. And, Sunday Break held well despite a very fast fraction in the final eighth. It was his best performance since his narrow loss to Buddha and Medaglia d'Oro in last year's Wood Memorial, and that includes his subsequent victory in the Peter Pan.

Sunday Break will be reunited on Saturday with Gary Stevens, for whom he has done his best racing.

Bold Ruler

Through last Tuesday, the horse who owned the highest Beyer Figure in the country at under a mile was Shake You Down. And, he earned a 118 not once but twice, in romps in his first two starts off the Scott Lake claim. You may think that makes him a cinch here, and maybe it does. But, both those 118's were earned in the slop at Aqueduct. Shake You Down may get a wet track again Saturday, but this ain't Aqueduct anymore, Toto.

My pick is Peeping Tom. He has been competitive with Congaree, Aldebaran, and many other of the best sprinters in the country lately. And, although he runs back just a week off a troubled-trip fourth in the Churchill Downs Handicap on the Kentucky Derby undercard, he shortens up to the distance at which he recorded his two most recent victories.