05/16/2002 11:00PM

Frankel confident in Skipping


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Bobby Frankel has won the $75,000 Jim Murray Handicap five times, so when asked who he would start in the marathon turf race Sunday at Hollywood Park, Frankel's optimistic response suggested the outcome was a foregone conclusion.

"Who am I running? The winner," he said.

The object of Frankel's confidence is Skipping, a 5-year-old European import who will be making his second United States start. Owned and bred by Khalid Abdullah's Juddmonte Farms, Skipping seeks to improve on an auspicious U.S. debut, when he overcame a slow start to finish second in a mile turf race at Santa Anita.

Skipping stretches out to a favorable distance in the 1 1/2-mile Jim Murray, restricted to nonwinners of $60,000 this year at a mile or more.

The field is strong. It includes Grade 1 winner Startac; Grade 3 winner Falcon Flight; Straight Flush, a Group 1 winner in Brazil; and Ferrari, a Group 2 winner in Germany. Nine entered the Jim Murray, named in honor of the late sports columnist for the Los Angeles Times.

Skipping and Straight Flush look best of the field. Skipping has unlimited potential. After winning 3 of 9 in France, Skipping was sent to Frankel, who unveiled the 5-year-old April 17. Although he lost the race, his effort was impressive. Skipping broke slowly, raced near the back, then smoked the final quarter-mile in approximately 22.70 seconds.

In the month since, Skipping has trained super. He will try to emulate past Juddmonte horses who achieved greater success with Frankel than they did overseas. The list includes Skimming, Chester House, Marquetry, and Tinners Way. Kent Desormeaux will ride Skipping.

Straight Flush entered the Santa Anita winter meet with much promise. After winning 6 of 8 in Brazil, he finished second in his first start for trainer Richard Mandella. An accelerated program aimed at the Dubai World Cup was foiled when the 7-year-old ran sixth in consecutive races.

"We pushed him, trying dirt, then a mile and a half," Mandella said. "Pretty soon, they push back."

Owned by Sierra Thoroughbreds, Straight Flush has been freshened for two months. Mandella said, "he's back working like he was early in the year."

A proven distance runner whose first start in the U.S. was every bit as strong as Skipping's U.S. debut, Straight Flush should fire his best in his first start back.