02/23/2008 12:00AM

El Mirage must fend off invader


PHOENIX – The connections of El Mirage were probably quite happy when they did not see rival White Spar entered in Monday’s $50,000 Palo Verde Stakes at Turf Paradise. El Mirage has won 3 of his first 4 races, and White Spar is the reason that record isn’t perfect.

Any glee was likely short-lived, however, as Southern California shipper Leonides is among El Mirage’s seven opponents in the 6 1/2-furlong event for 3-year-olds.

El Mirage, owned by Dennis Weir and trained by Kevin Lewis, got his career off to a dazzling start here last fall. He won his debut by 6 1/4 lengths Oct. 9 and then took a trial for the Arizona Breeders Futurity by 15 lengths Nov. 16. That romp sent him into the Dec. 1 Arizona Breeders Futurity as the 1-5 favorite. But after a slow start, El Mirage stalked the pace and could not keep up late, finishing third, beaten 7 1/4 lengths by White Spar and Ez Dreamer, who would go on to win the Rattlesnake.

More than the opposition, however, a sloppy track may have been the culprit. El Mirage got a chance to make things right in the Dec. 29 Lost in the Fog. He dueled on the pace that day on fast going, opened up, and gamely held on to beat White Spar by a neck. Ez Dreamer was another 5 3/4 lengths back in third.

Vince Guerra rides El Mirage on Monday.

Leonides won his debut at Hollywood Park last June and then rallied to be third in the Grade 3 Hollywood Juvenile July 4, beaten a nose by Salute the Sarge. Leonides, trained by Vladimir Cerin, was next seen in the Grade 1 Del Mar Futurity last September. He dueled on the pace and finished fourth, beaten just 1 1/4 lengths by Georgie Boy, the winner. Georgie Boy won the Grade 2 San Vicente at Santa Anita earlier this month.

Leonides hasn’t run since his Del Mar effort, but he boasts a string of strong works. Richard Migliore is slated to come in from Southern California for the ride. Cerin has been making the most of these raids, having won with 3 of his 5 starters here.

Bailey Road has won his two starts here since shipping in from the Midwest for trainer Justin Evans.

Dunlap, like El Mirage owned by Weir and trained by Lewis, won two sprints here in December before running fifth in the one-mile Rattlesnake. He’s proven on wet going, unlike his entrymate.