07/20/2006 11:00PM

Eddie Read a tad too far?

According to Neil Drysdale, the nine furlongs of the Eddie Read should be within Aragorn's range.

DEL MAR, Calif. - One extra furlong is one reason why the top turf milers in California - Aragorn and Silent Name - might be considered vulnerable Sunday in the Grade 1 Eddie Read Handicap at Del Mar.

A solid field of seven entered the $400,000 Read, including last year's one-two finishers are expected to be the top betting choices.

The distance is a concern, admitted Silent Name's trainer, Gary Mandella. "I wouldn't do it except that he's gotten very relaxed [in workouts]," he said. "Now is the time to try."

The Breeders' Cup Mile remains the primary objective for Silent Name, whose win in the Grade 2 Arcadia Handicap in April made him the top California miler. But in his most recent start, a third-place finish May 29 in the Grade 1 Shoemaker Mile, Silent Name was no match for sharp winner Aragorn, the 121-pound Read highweight and likely favorite.

Although Aragorn's three starts this year were at one mile (a win and two seconds in graded stakes), trainer Neil Drysdale places no distance limitations on Aragorn. After all, Aragorn won a modest 1 1/8-mile stakes for 3-year-olds last fall. The Read will determine the direction of his 4-year-old campaign - longer races, or a cut back to a mile.

"This is a pivotal race," Drysdale said, adding that plans for Aragorn for the rest of the summer and fall would not be made until after the Read.

Is the extra distance any concern? "I don't think so," Drysdale said. "He's a horse that has been running consistently better since he arrived."

Aragorn and Silent Name were imported from Europe; both are living up to fashionable pedigrees. Aragorn, sired by Giant's Causeway, has won 3 of 10 starts. Silent Name, a Japanese-bred by Sunday Silence, has won 5 of 13.

Both 4-year-old colts are in top form this year, and both are racing for the first time in two months. Afterward, Silent Name is likely to cut back to one mile in the Grade 1 Woodbine Mile on Sept. 17 as his prep for the BC Mile.

Drysdale also starts Fourty Niners Son, runner-up in last year's Read. A Grade 1 winner, he is at a potential disadvantage Sunday because of the lack of pace. However, the 5-year-old Fourty Niners Son "is coming up to this race really well," according to Drysdale.

He said Fourty Niners Son is expected to continue his campaign in the Grade 1 Arlington Million.

Sweet Return was razor sharp last year when he wired the Read for his second straight Grade 1, but his 2006 form has been slow to develop. His best effort from three starts was his most recent, a fourth in the Grade 1 Charles Whittingham.

"He was younger last year; I don't know about sharper," trainer Ron McAnally said about the 6-year-old Sweet Return. "He's plenty fit now."

Current form aside, Sweet Return could have a pace advantage. The Read field came up without another genuine front-runner; Aragorn and Silent Name have tactical speed and are likely to be positioned on top of the slow splits.

McAnally also starts Fast and Furious, a Grade 1-placed closer whose career has been frequently interrupted by problematic feet. On his best day, Fast and Furious has run fast enough to win a race like the Read, but, McAnally said, "the only thing with him is, there's not much pace."

A tepid pace scenario also works against Hendrix, who has blossomed as a 5-year-old. Runner-up behind Arlington Million-bound The Tin Man last out, Hendrix's improvement coincides with an equipment and style change.

"Taking blinkers off and taking him off the pace have been the keys," trainer Craig Dollase said.

Hendrix has won 5 of 19, and off his fast-finishing runner-up effort last out enters as a live contender.

Quasimodo has won four straight for trainer Julio Canani, and is racing above allowance conditions for the first time.

The field

Eddie Read Handicap
Purse: $400,000; 1 1/8 miles; Grade 1

1Fourty Niners SonJ. Velazquez1183-1
2Sweet ReturnA. Solis1176-1
3AragornC. Nakatani1215-2
4Silent NameV. Espinoza1187-2
5QuasimodoM. Pedroza11310-1
6Fast and FuriousM. Smith11512-1
7HendrixD. Flores1154-1

* Odds by Art Gropper