06/27/2005 12:00AM

Forest Grove looking for a rider

Benoit & Associates
Forest Grove, winning the Los Angeles Times Handicap under Corey Nakatani, will make his first Grade 1 start in Sunday's Triple Bend Handicap.

INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Forest Grove is the 118-pound topweight for the $350,000 Triple Bend Handicap at Hollywood Park on Sunday. A 4-year-old colt, he scored the most important win of his career here in May, when he won the Grade 3 Los Angeles Times Handicap.

So why can't trainer Eoin Harty find a jockey to ride Forest Grove in the Triple Bend?

"That seems a little bizarre," he said.

Harty said he thought he had Corey Nakatani booked to ride Forest Grove. Nakatani rode Forest Grove in the Los Angeles Times Handicap, but is booked to ride Unfurl the Flag, the winner of the Tiznow Stakes for statebreds April 24. Harty said he was informed of that situation on Sunday morning.

Many other top riders are booked on other mounts in what will be a large field in the Triple Bend. Still, Harty said he is not concerned. Riders under consideration for the mount include Jerry Bailey, Tyler Baze, and Jon Court.

"I don't think finding a rider will be a problem," Harty said.

The Triple Bend, a Grade 1 run over seven furlongs, is one of five stakes on an outstanding program Sunday, the richest day of stakes in California this year. The main race is the $750,000 American Oaks, a Grade 1 for 3-year-old fillies over 1 1/4 miles on turf. The program also includes the $300,000 Vanity Handicap, a Grade 1 for fillies and mares over 1 1/8 miles; the $250,000 American Handicap, a Grade 2 over 1 1/8 miles on turf; and the $200,000 Royal Heroine Stakes, a Grade 3 over a mile on turf for fillies and mares.

The Triple Bend may have a capacity field of 14. As of Sunday, the probable starters were Areyoutalkintome, Harvard Avenue, Mass Media, McCann's Mojave, Roi Charmant, Saint Afleet, Saint Buddy, Taste of Paradise, Trickey Trevor, and Tsigane. Others may be added to the field before entries are drawn Thursday.

Forest Grove will be making his first start in a Grade 1 in the Triple Bend. He finished second in the Grade 3 Count Fleet Sprint Handicap over six furlongs at Oaklawn Park on April 14, his first appearance in a graded stakes. He joined Harty's stable last fall, having previously been trained by Todd Pletcher.

Storm Wolf to Bing Crosby BC

Storm Wolf, the winner of the Grade 2 Laz Barrera Memorial Stakes for 3-year-olds on May 21, will pass the Triple Bend in favor of the Bing Crosby Breeders' Cup Handicap at Del Mar on July 31, trainer Bruce Headley said.

"I'll let him grow up a little," Headley said. "He's got a big future in front of him."

Storm Wolf has won his last three starts. He made his stakes debut in the Laz Barrera over seven furlongs.

"If I wait, I'll get a chance to see what these horses in here can do," Headley said of the Triple Bend field.

Three Degrees posts fastest work

Three Degrees, California's leading hope for the American Oaks, worked six furlongs on turf in a quick 1:12.20 on Sunday. The workout was the fastest of nine recorded works at the distance.

The workout surprised trainer Paddy Gallagher, who said she usually doesn't work so fast.

"She hasn't been that impressive in the mornings, but the afternoon she has been," he said.

Three Degrees won the Honeymoon Breeders' Cup Handicap over 1 1/8 miles on turf June 5, her first stakes win.

Her biggest threat in the American Oaks is Melhor Ainda, the winner of the Grade 3 Sands Point Handicap at Belmont Park on June 5. Trained by Bobby Frankel for Edmund Gann, Melhor Ainda is unbeaten in four starts, three of which were stakes. Melhor Ainda has yet to start in California.

Hollywood Park officials were hoping to attract 14 fillies for the American Oaks, but a field of 12 is more likely. The other probable starters are Cesario, Hallowed Dream, Isla Cozzene, Louvain, Luas Line, Memorette, Silk and Scarlet, Silver Cup, Sweet Firebird, and Thatswhatimean.

Sunday's three other stakes will draw strong fields.

Andujar, the winner of the Milady Breeders' Cup Handicap in her stakes debut June 4, is the 121-pound topweight in the Vanity Handicap.

King of Happiness, the winner of the Inglewood Handicap and the runner-up in the Shoemaker Mile on May 30, leads the field for the American Handicap. He will start as the 120-pound topweight.

Mea Domina, who won the Grade 1 Gamely Breeders' Cup Handicap on May 30, will be favored in the Royal Heroine.

Cougar Mtn Lodge wins maiden

Cougar Mtn Lodge is the latest addition to a strong group of California-bred 2-year-old males that have won maiden races in recent weeks.

In Saturday's ninth race over 5 1/2 furlongs, Cougar Mtn Lodge led throughout to score a six-length victory in his fourth start, finishing in 1:03.58. The race was his first for owners Leonard and Yolanda Fishelberg and trainer Mike Mitchell. The colt had previously been trained by Jerry Dutton.

Mitchell said he had scouted Cougar Mtn Lodge in the mornings in recent weeks.

"I haven't seen any of his races, but I saw him coming off the track," Mitchell said. "I found Jerry fishing in Idaho. There was a lot of negotiating."

Mitchell said the Fishelbergs paid $235,000 for Cougar Mtn Lodge. The colt joins Wild Uncle Kurt, who won the Willard Proctor Memorial Stakes, and the maiden winner Case Study as California-bred 2-year-old males with promising futures.

Cougar Mtn Lodge will be pointed for the $125,000 Graduation Stakes for statebreds at Del Mar on July 27, and not the $100,000 Hollywood Juvenile Championship here July 16, Mitchell said.

"I want him to have that month off," he said.

Valdivia gets three-day suspension

Jockey Jose Valdivia Jr., who is booked to ride McCann's Mojave in the Triple Bend, has been suspended for three days for careless riding in Thursday's seventh race.

Valdivia was aboard Star Pupil, who was disqualified and placed fourth for failing to maintain a straight course in the stretch. The suspension begins Wednesday and continues through Friday.

Scratch leads to unhappy bettors

According to some dissatisfied bettors, the need for alternate selections on multi-race bets such as the pick four, pick six, and place pick all was evident in Sunday's ninth race.

Waki American, the 6-5 favorite, was withdrawn during the warm-up after being reported unsound in his left foreleg, according to track stewards. Tickets that included him in those bets were transferred to the favorite, Bettor Royalty, who finished fourth as the 5-2 favorite.

Alternate selections have not been available on bet cards in California since the pick six scandal struck the 2002 Breeders' Cup.

Tote officials told the California Horse Racing Board earlier this year that technology was being developed to allow the use of alternate selections by the start of the Del Mar meeting July 20.