05/20/2002 11:00PM

Erica's Smile one to beat in first start since last May

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SAN MATEO, Calif. - Exactly one year ago on May 23, Erica's Smile won her maiden for trainer Jeff Bonde.

She was so impressive that day that she was entered in a stakes race at Hollywood Park and was the morning-line favorite, but was scratched after developing a fever. Two days after the fever was detected, she was diagnosed with pneumonia.

Erica's Smile finally returns to the races Thursday, and appears to be the one to beat in the Bay Meadows feature race, a six-furlong $40,000 optional claimer for 3-year-old fillies.

"After she got sick, we turned her out and gave her a lot of time," Bonde said.

If works are an indication, she has returned better than ever. She's had six recorded works in five weeks, including four bullets.

Her last work, on May 16, was a six-furlong bullet drill of 1:11.80, which followed another six-furlong bullet of 1:10.80 on May 9. Before that, she had a 59.20-second five-furlong bullet work on May 3.

"She's a good work horse," Bonde said.

Bonde purchased Erica's Smile, a daughter of Williamstown, for $50,000 at the Del Mar yearling sale in 2000. "She was an athletic type," he said. "She had good size, and I liked the way she walked."

Erica's Smile, who has been favored in each of her three starts, made her debut in a two-furlong race, and finished second. She was an odds-on choice at 4 1/2 furlongs in her second start, and again finished second. She won her third start, again at 4 1/2 furlongs, as the odds-on choice and earned a 79 Beyer Figure.

"She's a decent filly," said Bonde, who believes she will be effective going a mile. "Her pedigree is good. Williamstown has had some good winners at a mile."

Her opposition Thursday includes: Gold Sugar, who drops from stakes company; the Jerry Hollendorfer-trained entry of Collection and Dark City; Magic Weapon, a 5 1/2-length winner in her debut in January; and Crafty Zak, stepping up off a victory in a $16,000 claimer.

Trainers Murphy, 83, and Utley, 85, die

Veteran trainers Chuck Murphy and C.L. "Jack" Utley died last week.

Funeral services for Murphy, 83, who died of cancer Saturday at his home in Stockton, will be held Sunday at 2:30 p.m. at the First Presbyterian Church in Tracy.

A U.S. Air Force pilot during World War II, Murphy was at Santa Anita when the track first opened in 1934. He was involved in many aspects of racing. He owned and operated Rancho Delta Paraiso in Stockton with partner Kieran Maybury.

His fondest racing memory was galloping Citation.

He is survived by his wife, Mary, and daughter Susan, who is a trainer.

Graveside services were held Monday for Utley, 85, who died of cancer in a hospice center in Hayward on May 14. He is survived by his wife, Norma.

Utley trained Howard Stable horses, including the stakes-winning sprinter Makaleha. He also trained Buen Jefe.

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