05/05/2004 11:00PM

Even the Score ready to fire

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INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Even the Score was not ready for a top effort when he finished third in the San Bernardino Handicap at Santa Anita on April 3, his first start of the year.

"He was about two works short and we were very happy with the way he ran," trainer Vladimir Cerin said.

The same storyline will not apply when Even the Score returns in Saturday's $150,000 Mervyn LeRoy Handicap at Hollywood Park.

"If he loses, we'll have to have a different excuse. He's not short," Cerin said. "He's a pretty good horse."

Even the Score will be attempting to win his first California stakes in the Grade 2 Mervyn LeRoy, run over 1 1/16 miles on dirt. His competition in the field of eight includes defending champion Total Impact; Olmodavor, who has won two stakes in the last six months; and Buckland Manor, Ender's Shadow, Star Cross, and The Eden, all of whom have won stakes in the last year. Gift of the Eagle also starts, but will be a longshot.

Even the Score had three wins last year while trained by Dallas Stewart, including the Mardi Gras Handicap at Fair Grounds in March and an allowance race at Saratoga. He was unplaced in three graded stakes.

In the San Bernardino, Even the Score rallied from fifth through traffic, losing by 6 1/2 lengths.

Total Impact finished second in the San Bernardino, losing by 4 1/2 lengths. Trained by Laura de Seroux, Total Impact is winless in five starts since the 2003 Mervyn LeRoy, a losing streak that includes a runner-up finish to Ender's Shadow in the Tokyo City Handicap at Santa Anita in March.

While Total Impact will attract plenty of support, Olmodavor is the likely favorite. Trained by Richard Mandella, Olmodavor, 5, carries high weight of 121 pounds. The LeRoy will be Olmodavor's first start since a fourth-place finish in the $1 million Santa Anita Handicap on March 6.

"I think he'll run well," Mandella said.

Mandella said he didn't intend to give Olmodavor a layoff "quite as long as I did."

For the LeRoy, Olmodavor will wear blinkers for the first time since October. He has not worn blinkers in his last four starts, including wins in the Native Diver Handicap here last December and the Whirlaway Handicap at Fair Grounds, and a third in the San Pasqual Handicap in January.

"I took them off and he ran well a few times, but I think he needs them back on to get focused," Mandella said.