11/28/2008 12:00AM

El Gato Malo returns in Malibu prep

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INGLEWOOD, Calif. - The second phase of El Gato Malo's career begins in an optional claimer over 6 1/2 furlongs Sunday over the Cushion Track at Hollywood Park. If it's anything like his six-race campaign last year at 2 and early in his 3-year-old season, the gelding will merit massive attention in coming months.

El Galo Malo has won 4 of 6 starts and $440,200, including three stakes. Only a fifth-place finish in the Santa Anita Derby last April kept him out of the Kentucky Derby. As a consolation, he won the Grade 3 Lone Star Derby on May 10. Less than a month later, trainer Craig Dollase said that El Gato Malo was out until this fall with an undisclosed injury.

Sunday's race is designed as a prep for the $250,000 Malibu Stakes over seven furlongs at Santa Anita on Dec. 26. The race also drew Gayego, the winner of the Grade 2 Arkansas Derby and another candidate for the Malibu.

"It's a nice little tune-up," Dollase said of Sunday's race. "It came up kind of tough, too."

Owned by West Point Thoroughbreds, El Gato Malo won his only previous sprint, a maiden race at Hollywood Park in November 2007. In recent weeks, he has worked quickly, but that has not given Dollase an overabundance of confidence.

"I'm expecting a good effort," Dollase said. "Can he win? I can't tell you. I'm kind of scared of Gayego."

Gayego was turned out following an 11th-place finish in the Preakness Stakes in May. He returned to finish seventh in the Damascus Stakes for 3-year-olds over seven furlongs at Santa Anita on Oct. 25, breaking slowly on the Pro-Ride and never reaching contention. He finished 9 1/2 lengths behind Into Mischief.

"He was squeezed after the break," trainer Paulo Lobo said. "He lost about five lengths. I think he's better now than before the Damascus."

El Gato Malo and Gayego are the only 3-year-olds in the field of six. Of the older horses, Peace Chant, who was fourth in the Green Flash Handicap on turf at Del Mar in August, is a threat. He has worked quickly for his first start in three months.

Juvenile maiden races offer challenge

Hollywood Park is offering a $500,000-guaranteed pick-six pool on Sunday's 10-race program, and one of the most difficult races in the sequence is a 2-year-old maiden race over 6 1/2 furlongs.

The race has attracted a field of 13, but Position A, who drew the rail, will not start, according to trainer Richard Mandella. His absence does not make the race much easier for handicappers to sort through.

The field includes six first-time starters, including Moneagle, who was purchased for $700,000 at the 2007 Keeneland September yearling sale; Undeniable Truth, bought for $190,000 at the 2007 Fasig-Tipton July yearling sale; and New Bay, purchased for $310,000 at the Ocala Breeders' Sales Co. sale of March 2-year-olds in training earlier this year.

New Bay, trained by Richard Mandella, has worked quickly at Santa Anita.

"He'll probably need one," Mandella said. "He probably won't be ready first time out."

Undeniable Truth missed a three-furlong workout from the gate earlier this week because of wet weather, trainer Ron Ellis said. Ellis considers the colt an exciting prospect for 2009.

"I think he has some talent," Ellis said. "I haven't really put any pressure on him in the morning. If he breaks good, he'll go on with it."

Infernal and Mr. Hot Stuff are making their second starts, having finished fourth in their debuts. Infernal was beaten 1 1/2 lengths in a six-furlong race here Nov. 15.

"He's looking for more ground," Dollase said. "This is probably too short for him. If he can move up, we should be in good shape."

Mr. Hot Stuff, a full brother to 2008 Travers Stakes and Santa Anita Derby winner Colonel John, was beaten eight lengths in his debut Oct. 26. Trainer Eoin Harty is fitting Mr. Hot Stuff with blinkers for Sunday's race.

"He's got the benefit of a race under his belt," Harty said. "As long as he shows improvement, I'll be happy. I think he'll be a nice 3-year-old."

Thursday's winners eye bigger stakes

Victories by Bsharpsonata and Slew's Tiznow in minor stakes Thursday are likely to lead to appearances in major stakes at Santa Anita.

Slew's Tiznow set a track record for 1 1/16 miles of 1:40.34 with his win in the $69,150 War Chant Stakes, his second stakes win of the year. The win left owner Joseph LaCombe and trainer Doug O'Neill planning a start in the $150,000 San Fernando Stakes over 1 1/16 miles for 4-year-olds on Jan. 17.

"The Grade 1 carrot would be the Santa Anita Handicap," O'Neill said, referring to the $1 million race on March 7.

The win in the War Chant Stakes was Slew's Tiznow's first start since a 10th-place finish in the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile at Santa Anita on Oct. 25. The War Chant was scheduled for a mile on turf but was switched to the main track because of overnight rain.

Bsharpsonata is a candidate for the $250,000 La Brea Stakes for 3-year-old fillies over seven furlongs on Dec. 27 after her win in the $68,400 Playa del Rey Stakes. The La Brea is a Grade 1, one of the few milestones Bsharpsonata has yet to achieve.

Owned by Clover Leaf Farms II and trained by Todd Pletcher, Bsharpsonata won three stakes last winter when trained by Tim Salzman, including the Grade 2 Davona Dale Stakes over a mile at Gulfstream Park. She was later second in the Grade 1 Ashland Stakes at Keeneland and fifth in the Kentucky Oaks at Churchill Downs.

The Playa del Rey Stakes was Bsharpsonata's first start in California.