12/28/2001 1:00AM

End the year with El Gran Papa

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PHOENIX - Santa Anita's holiday weekend stakes are a little bit like college bowl games - they just keep coming at you.

The San Gabriel at 1 1/8 miles on the turf for older males is Sunday, the Monrovia down the hill for fillies is Monday, and the El Conejo at 5 1/2 furlongs tops off the New Year's Day proceedings Tuesday. And the best part is that each may offer some tempting price plays. We all have holiday credit card bills coming, right?

San Gabriel

Irish Prize won the race last year, and is back to defend his crown for Neil Drysdale. He probably deserves to be favored off his overall form and the fact he has rubbed elbows with the best middle-distance turfers in the business.

But some of the shine may be off Irish Prize; he may not be as good now as he was six months or a year ago when he won this race. That leaves the door open.

Kerrygold is sure to try hard for trainer Darrell Vienna, but may be more effective going longer. Bonapartiste showed some of his old class with a second to Super Quercus at 53-1 in the Grade 1 Hollywood Turf Cup a couple of weeks ago. No Slip and Sligo Bay will take their first shots at their elders.

But as usual, Bobby Frankel may have the horse to beat. El Gran Papa hinted at top ability in 2001. He won a tough N3X at Hollywood in May, then won the Dallas Turf Cup at Lone Star in June. He came back in the Grade 3 Arlington Handicap and finished third, but he didn't show his same pizzazz. Maybe the travel caught up to him, or maybe 1 1/4 miles was too much.

Now El Gran Papa is fresh, moves back to a better distance, and is certainly working solidly.

El Gran Papa is the key here. I'll play him over Kerrygold (for his effort) and Irish Prize (for his class)<.

Monrovia

Owner Richard Duggan is going for a repeat in Monday's Monrovia Handicap.

Duggan, along with James Vreeland, owned Evening Promise, who captured this race last year. They are owners of Honesty Fair, a 4-year-old Florida-bred daughter of Repriced, who will make her United States debut in the Grade 3 race for fillies and mares at about 6 1/2 furlongs on the turf.

"She was a pretty high-rated filly over there," Duggan said, referring to Honesty Fair's 28-7-0-3 record in England and earnings of $117,130.

"She had a 110 Timeform [rating], which is pretty high, and she raced most of the year against the colts. She won three good handicaps in England this year and I like her very much. She'll only have been here a month and a few days when she runs [in the Monrovia].

"What I liked about her was her consistency. She's very similar to Evening Promise. Honesty Fair actually rated higher than Evening Promise and I think she's going to be better."

She will probably have to be. Verruma looked super blasting between horses to win the Dahlia at Hollywood recently, and Gabriellina Giof and High Margin have shown that when on their games they can scare the top fillies.

But, at a decent price, Honesty Fair may be the way to go. Honesty Fair is the key, and I'll use her over Gabriellina Giof, High Margin, and Verruma.

El Conejo

Freespool is the quickest horse in the country. But although he has beaten the likes of Caller One to the first call, he often been found wanting late when facing the best.

But there's no Kona Gold or Caller One in Tuesday's Grade 3 El Conejo. Explicit is awfully fast, and so, too, are Gibson County, a possible starter, and Rio Oro. But Freespool counts only Caller One and Xtra Heat in his domain of early speed. And going just 5 1/2 furlongs, his preferred distance, and with a strong work tab off a freshening, he figures to be tough. He has won this race the past two years, both times off layoffs.

But who to use with him? Explicit will fly early, but he's been gone a long time. Can he duel with Freespool and keep going off such a long layoff? That's asking a lot. Rio Oro is sharp as a tack, but speed's his game, too. Ditto Gibson County.

Misanello has never been better, but these are much better than he's been facing.

There is one horse of interest: the rejuvenated Kinetic Bend. Trainer Summer Mayberry brought him back from a long layoff at Golden Gate Nov. 14, and he won easily by two lengths over some nice optional claimers. Next stop: Hollywood Park Dec. 13 with $80,000 optional claimers. This was even easier, as he romped by six. Kinetic Bend has always had ability, and apparently he's in top form. He could be the one who can exploit the other tiring speed.

Odds are, Freespool breaks on top and keeps going, but if Explicit, Rio Oro, Gibson County and anyone else chase Freespool hard and come up gasping for air turning for home, Kinetic Bend can be the one to pick up the pieces.

I'll box Freespool and Kinetic Bend, and with Freespool likely to be even money, I'll also play Kinetic Bend to win.