04/13/2003 11:00PM

Duke of Green in form

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ARCADIA, Calif. - A horseplayer who is shopping for a price might be tempted by one of three European imports in the seventh-race feature Wednesday at Santa Anita. Eight older horses entered the mile turf race, a three-other-than optional $100,000 claimer in which Father Thames, Maranilla, and Wixoe Express all race for the first time on U.S. ground.

But there will be no red carpet for them. A solid bunch of locals is likely to foil the shippers, and Duke of Green's sharp form suggests he is tops in the group.

A consistent 6-year-old trained by Jeff Mullins, Duke of Green likely will be favored over lightly raced River God, comebacker Bayou the Moon, active Kachamandi, and Rushin' to Altar. Add in the new shooters, and the race shapes up as a proper feature to start closing week of the winter meet, which ends Sunday. The Hollywood Park spring-summer meet begins next Wednesday.

Duke of Green was claimed for $100,000 by Mullins three starts back on Jan. 15. His form lines are solid. The day Duke of Green was claimed, he was beaten a neck by Champion Lodge, a subsequent Grade 2 winner and a leading contender for the Grade 1 San Juan Capistrano on Sunday.

Duke of Green disliked the Turf Paradise turf course next out, but returned to peak form here March 14, finishing second by a length in a fast race won by potential star Apache Wings.

The effort was among Duke of Green's best, and it stamps him as the horse to beat Wednesday. A 6-year-old who has won six races and $349,601 from 23 starts, including the 2000 Oceanside Stakes at Del Mar, Duke of Green will be ridden by Gary Stevens. Mullins and Stevens have combined to go 7 for 12 at the meet, including three stakes wins by Buddy Gil. Wednesday, Stevens and Duke of Green will be placed with or near the leaders, along with Richard Mandella's tandem of River God and Bayou the Moon.

River God faces better after a neck win in a two-other-than on March 6. That race was the first route try by River God in nearly two years. He was sidelined from March 2001 until January 2003. River God, 3 for 5, will be ridden by Alex Solis. His uncoupled stablemate Bayou the Moon is racing for the first time since October and may need the start.

Kachamandi seeks his first win of the meet in his sixth start at the meet.