06/09/2004 11:00PM

Even the Score stays on dirt


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Common sense won out. Rather than tempt fate by racing on grass, Even the Score will stick to what works Saturday at Hollywood Park - racing on dirt and starting as the deserving favorite in the Grade 2 Californian.

Trainer Vladimir Cerin considered entering Even the Score in the Grade 1 Charles Whittingham Memorial at 1 1/4 miles on turf, but a fast work early in the week, and a big field for Whittingham, forced a change in plans.

"We can always go back to turf later," Cerin said. There may be no reason to.

The $250,000 Californian is the prep for the Grade 1 Hollywood Gold Cup on July 10, and a good showing by Even the Score would make him one of Gold Cup favorites. In the 1 1/8-mile Californian, , a Grade 2 winner last year; and several outsiders. They are Gene de Campeao, Mud Shark, Gift of the Eagle, Fonz's, and Buckland Manor.

The field is not particularly strong, and Gold Cup favoritism may depend on Southern Image's performance Saturday in the Stephen Foster at Churchill Downs. Meanwhile, the West Coast handicap division could use a boost from Even the Score.

A 6-year-old by Unbridled's Song, Even the Score scored a 5-1 upset May 8 in the Grade 2 Mervyn LeRoy Handicap, his second start since joining the Cerin barn. Cerin and owner Ro Parra decided to skip the Whittingham after a sizzling five-furlong workout Monday in 58.80 seconds.

"As fast as he went in his last workout . . . if he showed that kind of speed in a mile and a quarter turf race, he might get a little pressure late," Cerin said.

Even the Score has won eight races and $511,629 from 27 starts, and should get a good trip under David Flores. It was Flores who committed to Whittingham starter Bayamo weeks ago, and he would have had to relinquish the mount on Even the Score if Even the Score had also entered the Whittingham. The decision to race Even the Score in the Californian means that Flores will be aboard contenders Saturday in all three stakes. He rides Class Above in the Hollywood Oaks.

In his most recent win, Even the Score rallied from sixth, and he gets a favorable pace scenario Saturday, though he may have to improve off the 103 Beyer Speed Figure he earned last time. It typically requires a 110 Beyer to win the Californian.

The pace will be set by Ender's Shadow, a 4-year-old by A.P. Indy whose form has improved since he was gelded last summer. His last three starts, under apprentice Mick Ruis, have been the best of his career. Ruis merely stays out of Ender's Shadow's way.

"If you try to grab him, he hits himself," trainer Jenine Sahadi said. "He alters stride."

Ruis and Ender's Shadow sprang a 43-1 upset in the restricted Tokyo City in March, were unplaced in the Grade 3 San Bernardino, then finished second last time behind Even the Score. Owned by Green Lantern Stables, Ender's Shadow has won four races and $181,836 from 13 starts; his career-best Beyer is 101.