07/08/2004 12:00AM

Even the Score goes for sweep


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Even the Score joined trainer Vladimir Cerin's stable last fall as a minor stakes winner with a history of foot problems.

"We knew he'd be a project," Cerin said.

The success of that venture has taken Even the Score's career much further than Cerin and owner Ro Parra, of Austin, Texas, expected.

Saturday, Even the Score will be a short-priced favorite to win his third consecutive stakes in the $750,000 at Hollywood Park.

The field of seven does not include the top two Southern California-based older horses, Pleasantly Perfect (the winner of the 2003 Breeders' Cup Classic and 2004 Dubai World Cup) or Southern Image (2004 Santa Anita Handicap and Pimlico Special).

The Gold Cup, run over 1 1/4 miles on dirt, is the ninth race on a 10-race program that includes the Grade 2 Swaps Breeders' Cup Stakes for 3-year-olds and the Grade 2 A Gleam Handicap for fillies and mares over seven furlongs.

Although the Gold Cup has not drawn any nationally prominent horses, the race gives Even the Score an opportunity to complete a rare sweep of the three major dirt stakes for older horses at Hollywood Park.

Even the Score won the Grade 2 Mervyn LeRoy Handicap over 1 1/16 miles by two lengths May 8 and the Grade 2 Californian Stakes over 1 1/8 miles by 3 1/2 lengths June 12. They are the only graded stakes wins of his career, which includes 9 wins in 28 starts and earnings of $661,629. Eleven Stitches in 1981 is the only horse to sweep the series.

Cerin said foot problems forced Even the Score to be rested from his arrival in California last fall until the Grade 3 San Bernardino Handicap at Santa Anita on April 3, when he finished third to Dynever.

Since then, Even the Score, 6, has improved, Cerin said.

"He has a lot of presence," Cerin said. "He's bigger, stronger, and very intelligent. He's almost like a different species. When he comes to the track in the morning, he looks around like he's scanning the competition."

Even the Score has won his last two starts by tracking the pace, a strategy that should work in the Gold Cup.

Texas invader Yessirgeneralsir is expected to lead. Trained by Dallas Keen, Yessirgeneralsir, 4, won his first stakes in an 11-1 upset in the Grade 3 Lone Star Park Handicap over 1 1/16 miles May 31. The Gold Cup is his first start over 1 1/4 miles.

Yessirgeneralsir will be tracked by Royal Moro and Total Impact.

Royal Moro won an allowance race over 6 1/2 furlongs June 26. The Gold Cup is his first stakes appearance in more than two years.

Total Impact, the winner of the 2003 Mervyn LeRoy, was third in this year's Mervyn LeRoy and second to Even the Score in the Californian. Gift of the Eagle, who was sixth in the Mervyn LeRoy and fourth in the Californian, will also be near the pace.

Gift of the Eagle's best chance is probably for a placing, trainer John Shirreffs said.

"He'd have to be the best he's ever been to have any chance at all," Shirreffs said. "If Even the Score is anything like he's been, he'll be a standout."

The closers are Continental Red, 8, and Olmodavor, 5.

Continental Red has earned most of his $1,172,558 on turf. The Gold Cup will be his 63rd career start and fourth of the meeting. He was second in the Khaled Stakes and Jim Murray Memorial Handicap and fifth in the Charles Whittingham Handicap, all on turf.

Olmodavor finished fourth in the Santa Anita and Mervyn LeRoy handicaps earlier this year. Trained by Richard Mandella, who also trains Pleasantly Perfect, Olmodavor is seeking his first stakes win since the Grade 3 Whirlaway Handicap at Fair Grounds on Feb. 1.

"He's a good horse, but he's had some aches and pains he's had to work through," Mandella said. "I expect him to run well."

Ultimately, they must all beat Even the Score, who earned his way into the Gold Cup after the Californian. Since then, Cerin has not trained Even the Score as intensely.

"I think he's fairly fit, and I didn't want to dull him," Cerin said. "His works haven't been as fast, and I don't think they need to be. I'm looking at a horse that's really sharp."

The field

Hollywood Gold Cup
Purse: $750,000; 1 1/4 miles; Grade 1

1OlmodavorA. Solis4-1
2Total ImpactM. Smith6-1
3Continental RedV. Espinoza10-1
4YessirgeneralsirO. Figueroa5-1
5Gift of the EagleJ. Santiago20-1
6Royal MoroC. Nakatani9-2
7Even the ScoreD. Flores6-5

* All starters carry 124 pounds
* Odds by Kenny Peck
* Television: Saturday, 8-9 p.m. (Eastern), ESPN2