06/07/2001 11:00PM

Frankel has perfect pairing


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Skimming and Aptitude offer bettors an ideal entry in Sunday's $500,000 Californian at Hollywood Park.

The two horses compliment each other, giving owner Juddmonte Farms and trainer Bobby Frankel a powerful combination. If one falters, the other may be up to the task.

Skimming, a front-runner, is making his second start of the year, having finished second to Futural in the Mervyn LeRoy Handicap on May 5. He led throughout the $1 million Pacific Classic last August and will try the same tactic in the Grade 2 Californian, run over 1 1/8 miles.

Aptitude, who was sixth in the Dubai World Cup in his last start, on March 24, is a closer. He used that tactic to finish second in the 2000 Belmont Stakes and Kentucky Derby.

They will run against six older horses also using the Californian as a prep to the $750,000 Hollywood Gold Cup on July 1.

Blade Prospector, fourth in the Metropolitan Handicap, and Red Eye, an allowance horse, may challenge Skimming. City West, a Group 1 winner in South America; Irisheyeareflying, who was second in the All American Handicap at Bay Meadows; Jekyll and Hyde, an allowance horse; and Futural will be stalking.

Skimming's chances may be compromised by the speedy Blade Prospector. Skimming led in the Mervyn LeRoy, but was beaten a length by Futural.

"He broke slow and rushed up," Frankel said.

"I thought he ran very good. He had some problems last year but everything has been taken care of. When he came back, he was much sounder."

City West is making his first U.S. start on dirt, following two third-place finishes on turf at this meeting, including the Grade 3 Fastness Handicap on May 13.

Trainer Patrick Biancone has had the Californian and Gold Cup in mind for months.

"In the timing to get him ready, there were only turf races," he said. "I didn't run him on turf because I am a maniac. He had three weeks, then four weeks and now three weeks to the Gold Cup.

"I think that's perfect. I want to win all the time. The horse is well, but I suspect he'll be better three weeks later."

Frankel is tipping Aptitude. Jerry Bailey will travel from New York to ride, the first time he has been aboard the 4-year-old. Frankel thought of waiting for the Gold Cup, but didn't want to train up to a race over 1 1/4 miles.

"He needs racing," Frankel said. "I haven't lost faith in him. It's like defending your child when people knock him. When you almost win the Derby, you have a special feeling for the horse."

Hollywood Park officials decided to double the purse for the Californian this year from $250,000, hoping to insure the best possible field of handicap horses.