11/27/2003 12:00AM

Dress to Thrill faces formidable task

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INGLEWOOD, Calif. - When Dress to Thrill won the Matriarch Stakes last year, many observers expected an outstanding season from her as a 4-year-old in 2003. They are still waiting.

In four starts this year, Dress to Thrill has one win, the Grade 3 All Along Breeders' Cup Stakes at Colonial Downs in July. Since then, she has finished sixth in the Grade 1 Beverly D. Stakes at Arlington Park in August and fourth in the Flower Bowl Invitational at Belmont Park in September.

Trainer Christophe Clement defends her limited campaign this year, which began with a fifth in the Gamely Breeders' Cup Handicap here in May.

"When a horse has won a graded stakes, it's not a disappointing season," Clement said.

On Sunday, Dress to Thrill returns to Hollywood Park for the $500,000 Matriarch Stakes, which has been shortened from 1 1/8 miles to a mile and is run on turf. In the 22-year history of the race, only Flawlessly has successfully defended her title, winning three consecutive runnings from 1991-93.

Owned by Moyglare Stud, Dress to Thrill will not be favored in the Matriarch, which has drawn 14 entrants. That role is expected to go to Etoile Montante, the winner of the Group 1 Prix de la Foret in Paris in mid-October, who will be making her U.S. debut.

Last year, Dress to Thrill was 7-1 when she beat five opponents in the Matriarch. She is likely to be a higher price on Sunday.

Clement said Dress to Thrill is ready for the Matriarch even though she has not started since the Flower Bowl. He intended to start her in the Las Palmas Handicap at Santa Anita on Nov. 9, but the race was canceled because of a purse cut.

Clement admits that the Matriarch will not be an easy race for Dress to Thrill to win.

"I think anything between a mile and a mile and a quarter is okay for her," Clement said. "The Matriarch with 14 horses is tougher than the Matriarch last year."

Dress to Thrill has drawn post 10 and will be ridden for the first time by Patrick Valenzuela. Also in the field are Acago, Belleski, Chopinina, Dancal, Dedication, Garden in the Rain, Heat Haze, Island Fashion, Magic Mission, Maiden Tower, Mer de Corail, and Musical Chimes.

Europeans strong in Hollywood Derby

The most lucrative race on Sunday's program is the $600,000 Hollywood Derby, which will have a significant European influence. Stakes winners Alberto Giacometti and Sign of the Wolf, both from Europe, are in the field. The European Darinski was excluded after the field reached a maximum of 14 starters.

Alberto Giacometti was acquired by owner Sidney Port and sent to trainer Laura de Seroux in August. The Hollywood Derby will be his first start since a sixth-place finish in the Group 1 Grand Prix de Paris in Paris in June.

Alberto Giacometti is winless in four starts this year but won the Group 1 Criterium de Saint Cloud last November.

"Ideally, I wish I had one more week and one more work," said de Seroux. "He didn't arrive until August, and we had to allow him a few weeks to settle in. He needed some recovery time."

De Seroux was pleased with Alberto Giacometti's five-furlong workout on turf in 1:00.60, the fastest of six recorded works at the distance.

"I've never missed a beat," de Seroux said. "I think he's fit enough to race.

"He's a clever horse and a fun horse to be around. He's got more handiness and speed than most Sadler's Wellses. We've got to take a shot. There are only two Grade 1's for 3-year-olds on turf."

Sign of the Wolf has won half of his eight starts, including two stakes. He was ninth behind Alberto Giacometti in the Grand Prix de Paris in June. Trainer Francois Rohaut thinks that Sign of the Wolf is best running on a counter-clockwise track; he's undefeated in four starts on such courses.

Unlike many shippers from Europe at this time of year, Sign of the Wolf is scheduled to return to France next week.

The Hollywood Derby field is led by Kicken Kris and Fairly Ransom. Kicken Kris won the Grade 1 Secretariat Stakes at Arlington Park in August, a few weeks before Fairly Ransom won the Del Mar Derby.

The other entrants are Bis Repetitas, Californian, Fortune Writers, Senor Swinger, Sigint, Silver Tree, Stanley Park, Sweet Return, Urban King, and Willard Straight.

Kicken Kris has earned the respect of de Seroux.

"I was in Chicago for the Secretariat and he has a sharp turn of foot," de Seroux said.

Pedroza gets hot

Jockey Martin Pedroza vaulted into a tie for sixth place in the Hollywood Park standings with a four-win day on Wednesday.

Pedroza rode the early double on Ghost Memo ($4.20) and Arch Ability ($5.40), won the fourth with Validating ($10), and the sixth with Saint Lorenzo ($4.40). His only losing mount was a runner-up finish aboard Lipan in the fifth race.

"I was hoping they all ran like they could, and they did," Pedroza said.

The successful day helped to revive a dull meeting for Pedroza. Before Wednesday, he had just two wins in the first 10 days of the meeting. Thursday, he won the first race aboard Bettor Royalty.

Stakes might boost business

Strong stakes this weekend could push business at the fall meeting into positive territory.

Through Sunday, the 10th day of the 30-day meeting, average ontrack handle had fallen 5 percent from last year, to $1,310,879. The overall handle was down 1 percent, to $8,201,777. The most significant gain occurred in telephone and Internet betting, which was up 24.3 percent to $432,389.

Average ontrack attendance had improved 1.7 percent, to 6,723, but it was not enough to offset a drop of 8.5 percent in average offtrack attendance, to 8,302.

* Actor Joe Pesci was in the winner's circle for Thursday's second race, celebrating the victory of his namesake, Pesci. Co-owned by trainer Wesley Ward, Pesci ($3) ran six furlongs in 1:09.59 and won by 8 1/2 lengths in her first career start.