11/25/2004 12:00AM

Derby distance suits Imperialism

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INGLEWOOD, Calif. - After racing throughout the nation in pursuit of some of the sport's richest prizes this year, Imperialism may have found a derby he can win at his home track Sunday.

The $500,000 at Hollywood Park is ideally suited to Imperialism, who races for Steve Taub and trainer Kristin Mulhall. The race is run on turf, a surface he has proven to like, and over 1 1/4 miles, a distance that should suit him.

In the Kentucky Derby, also run over 1 1/4 miles, Imperialism rallied from 17th on the backstretch to finish third, six lengths behind Smarty Jones. Since then, Imperialism has done little to enhance his reputation, finishing fifth in the Preakness and fourth in the Super Derby and Oak Tree Derby.

But the latter race, over 1 1/8 miles on turf at Santa Anita on Oct. 17, left Mulhall encouraged. Imperialism rallied from ninth to finish 1 3/4 lengths behind Greek Sun, who was expected to be a top contender in Sunday's Hollywood Derby but is out with an ankle injury. Greek Sun's absence gives Imperialism a more prominent role, which Mulhall says Imperialism deserves.

"After the Oak Tree Derby, it looked like he needed more ground," Mulhall said. "I think the distance should be better for him."

Mulhall has been particularly encouraged by Imperialism's last three workouts, including five furlongs in 59.80 on Nov. 13, six furlongs in 1:14.40 on Nov. 19, and three furlongs in 36.80 on Thursday. In each case, the workouts were described as breezing by clockers and not the more typical designation of handily.

"He's training better than he's ever trained," Mulhall said. "Normally, he's a bad work horse, but lately he's been tearing up the track. He's strong in his gallops. He's always been a lazy horse to train and he's on the muscle. I think he's coming into it as good as he can be."

Imperialism is winless in his last five starts, dating back to the Grade 2 San Rafael Stakes at Santa Anita in March.

Kent Desormeaux regains the mount Sunday, replacing Victor Espinoza, who was aboard for the Oak Tree Derby. Desormeaux rode Imperialism in the Kentucky Derby, Preakness, and Super Derby.

The Grade 1 Hollywood Derby is one of two $500,000 races on Sunday's program, preceded by the Grade 1 Matriarch Stakes for fillies and mares.

The derby drew a field of 13. Imperialism has drawn the outside post and will face, in post position order, Hendrix, Big Squeeze, Blackdoun, Whilly, Good Reward, Timo, Terroplane, On the Acorn, Fight Club, Joursanvault, Fast and Furious, and Laura's Lucky Boy.

The Matriarch Stakes is led by Musical Chimes, the winner of the John Mabee Handicap in July and the Oak Tree Breeders' Cup Mile against males last month. She drew post 7. The other entrants include Hoh Buzzard, Quero Quero, Denebola, Intercontinental, Ocean Drive, Ticker Tape, Island Fashion, and Etoile Montante.

Both races are part of a guaranteed pick six pool of $1 million on Sunday's program.

Bushwacker eyes Delta Jackpot

Bushwacker, who finished second to Eclipse Award candidate Declan's Moon in the Grade 3 Hollywood Prevue Stakes last weekend, is likely to make his next start in the $1 million Delta Jackpot Stakes at Delta Downs on Dec. 4.

Trainer and co-owner Bill Currin won the 2002 Delta Jackpot with Outta Here when the race was worth $500,000.

"I'm still thinking about it, but it might be the easiest place to run for $1 million," Currin said.

Bushwacker was making his stakes debut in the Prevue. He led to early stretch but was caught by Declan's Moon in the final furlong, losing by two lengths. Currin said the two-week gap between races is not ideal.

"I'd prefer it would be three," he said. "When he learns to put it all together, I think he will be a very formidable horse."

T.H. Approval wins second in a row

T.H. Approval gave trainer Eduardo Inda a much-needed boost with a victory in an optional claimer over 1 1/4 miles on turf Wednesday.

T.H. Approval was Inda's first starter since Sparking Ava broke down and was euthanized as a result of injuries suffered in an allowance race Sunday.

Wednesday's victory was T.H. Approval's second in November; he also won an allowance race over 1 1/2 miles Nov. 14.

The winning streak marks a turnaround for T.H. Approval, a 3-year-old colt who needed seven starts to win his maiden. T.H. Approval has won 3 of 13 starts.

Inda said T.H. Approval needed longer races to be effective.

"I think it was the distance," Inda said. "And he's more mature. Before, he was green and playing around. I almost gelded him because he was so playful. He used to get really hot in the paddock, but he doesn't now."

T.H. Approval won Wednesday's race by a head, catching pacesetter Balestrini in the final furlong. Salford City, who was fifth in the English Derby earlier this year, finished third. The race was his U.S. debut.

* Jockey G.F. Almeida, who was briefly hospitalized after falling from Sparkling Ava last weekend, received doctor's clearance earlier this week to resume riding.