04/16/2004 12:00AM

Do-or-die time for Headley's streak

Email

ARCADIA, Calif. - Trainer Bruce Headley, best known for his work with sprinters in recent years, needs a win from Rhythm Mad in Sunday's $250,000 San Juan Capistrano Handicap for turf marathoners to preserve a winning streak.

Since 1998, Headley has annually scored at least one major stakes win at the Santa Anita winter-spring meeting. This year, Headley has yet to win a stakes at this meeting, and Rhythm Mad represents his final opportunity.

Headley's streak has been helped by such popular horses as Got Koko, Kona Gold, and Son of a Pistol. This year, his stable has not been active at the same level. Kona Gold was retired last year, and Got Koko is out with an ankle injury. None of the young horses in the stable developed quickly enough to try top stakes.

"I didn't expect Koko to hurt her ankle," Headley said. "I don't have a pocketful of money. I'm doing this with pennies."

Headley, 70, did win the minor Kalookan Queen Handicap with Royally Chosen on Dec. 31, but she was disqualified and placed second behind Ema Bovary. The decision still bothers Headley.

"I had a stakes win but they disqualified me," he said.

While Got Koko is a router, Headley realizes the oddity of trying to win a major stakes on turf with Rhythm Mad.

"I'm trying to break that spell of only training sprinters," he said.

Acquired over the winter, Rhythm Mad won two allowance races in France last year before finishing fourth to Dalakhani in the Group 2 Prix Niel at Longchamp in September. Dalakhani returned to win the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe at Longchamp in early October.

Rhythm Mad is owned by Jess Jackson's Four Star Stables. Jackson, the proprietor of the well-known Kendall-Jackson winery in Somona, Calif., has been building a stable in the last year, both publicly at sales and privately through agents.

Rhythm Mad made his U.S. debut Feb. 19, finishing fourth in an allowance race over a mile on turf. He returned March 18 and won a $60,000 allowance race by a head, fighting for the lead through the stretch.

Headley had been pointing Rhythm Mad for the San Juan Capistrano since that race. On April 6, he worked Rhythm Mad 1 1/4 miles on the main track in 2:07.60, a rare distance for a workout. It was designed to build the stamina needed to compete in the San Juan, over about 1 3/4 miles on turf.

Headley has never won the San Juan Capistrano, but has strong memories of the race he said he first saw in 1950. One of his most vivid memories was the 1962 running, won by Olden Times, who was ridden by Bill Shoemaker for Mesh Tenney.

"He looked like a Quarter Horse," Headley said of Olden Times. "Nobody could beat Shoemaker and Tenney when they were at their best."

Sunday, Headley is hoping Rhythm Mad can win his first stakes in the U.S., and, in doing so, preserve his streak.

'A.P.' and Silent Sighs work for Oaks

A.P. Adventure and Silent Sighs, the winners of Grade 1 stakes at Santa Anita this year, worked fast on Friday in preparation for the Kentucky Oaks at Churchill Downs on April 30.

At Hollywood Park, A.P. Adventure worked six furlongs in 1:11.40, the fastest of 16 recorded works at the distance. A.P. Adventure won the Grade 1 Las Virgenes Stakes in February and was third behind Silent Sighs in the Santa Anita Oaks on March 13.

At Santa Anita, Silent Sighs worked seven furlongs in 1:23, the fastest of two recorded works at the distance.

Silent Sighs started several lengths behind stablemate Raw Data, drew closer in early stretch, and finished evenly. Raw Data, who has not started, worked six furlongs in 1:11.20, the fastest of 11 works.

Silent Sighs was ridden by David Flores, who will be aboard for the Kentucky Oaks. "She was pulling me on the backstretch, but I got her to relax," Flores told owner-breeder Marty Wygod.

Trainer title goes down to wire

Through Thursday, Jeff Mullins had a two-win lead over Doug O'Neill in the trainer's standings, 41-39. With both trainers having starters over the final three days, the title may not be decided until Sunday. Mullins said the crown is not a priority.

"It definitely adds to your resume," he said. "I worry more about my percentage. If you can keep a consistent percentage, it says a lot more than winning a title."

Through Thursday, Mullins had won with 26 percent of his starters, compared with 17 percent for O'Neill. For both trainers, a Santa Anita title would be a career first. Bob Baffert has won each of the last seven titles, but was in fifth place through Thursday.

Victor Espinoza had a commanding lead in the jockey standings through Thursday, with 85 wins, 14 more than Alex Solis.

Solis led the standings until late March, but traveled extensively to ride major stakes in early April. Through Thursday, Solis had won with 23 percent of his mounts, compared with 17 percent for Espinoza.

Track set to open restaurants

Santa Anita will keep open two of its popular restaurant/bars - FrontRunner and Sirona's - when the track begins simulcasting from Hollywood Park on Wednesday.

Sirona's was constructed last fall and has been open since late December.

FrontRunner has been open since 1999; it overlooks the racetrack.

During simulcasting, admission to FrontRunner will be $10, and admission to Sirona's will be $5. The track will operate several general admission areas, for an admission price of $5.

Hosco may run in Henson

Hollywood Park opens its spring-summer meeting Wednesday with free general admission and a program led by the $75,000 Harry Henson Stakes.

Run over 5 1/2 furlongs on turf for 3-year-olds, the Henson might include Hosco, the winner of the San Miguel Stakes at Santa Anita last January who has yet to start on turf. Hosco finished 10th in the $500,000 WinStar Derby over 1 1/16 miles at Sunland Park on March 28.

Hollywood Park's first week is highlighted by Saturday's $1.31 million California Gold Rush Day program for statebreds.