05/10/2006 12:00AM

Garcia steps up and settles in

After her loss in the Kentucky Oaks, Diplomat Lady will stick to sprints.

INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Martin Garcia, the 21-year-old riding sensation from northern California, wasted no time making friends at Hollywood Park on Wednesday morning.

Preparing for the start of his Southern California career on Friday night at Hollywood Park, Garcia scurried about the barn area through the morning, working horses for several trainers. By mid-morning, Garcia had the comfort of knowing that early impressions were favorable.

He is booked to ride four races on Friday and has a mount in the $100,000 Los Angeles Handicap on Saturday.

"They want to put me on good horses," Garcia said in limited English.

Garcia, a native of Mexico who began riding last August, won the riding title at the Golden Gate Fields meeting that ended on Sunday, relegating annual leader Russell Baze to second place.

An apprentice until November, Garcia was second in the national standings by wins through Tuesday with 149.

Garcia considered moving to Southern California earlier this year, but he decided to wait until the conclusion of the Golden Gate meeting. He joins a Hollywood Park jockey roster that does not include Hall of Famer Kent Desormeaux, or leading rider Garrett Gomez, both of whom are riding in New York this spring.

Garcia will be competing against a group led by Patrick Valenzuela and Victor Espinoza. They dominated the standings at the Santa Anita meeting earlier this year.

"I want to try to do the best," he said. "I know that everybody here are good jockeys. I want to be one of them.

"I want to learn more. Here, you have competition with good jockeys. I want to learn every day."

Garcia and his agent, Roger Olguin, discussed relocating to New York, but said they are committed to Southern California through Del Mar, Olguin said.

Secret Ridge gets in light

Garcia will ride Secret Ridge in the Los Angeles Handicap, which is run at six furlongs.

Trained by Paulo Lobo, Secret Ridge won the 2000 Guineas in Brazil in 2004 and has made one start in this country, finishing fifth in an allowance race at six furlongs at Santa Anita in March.

The race was Secret Ridge's first start since finishing 14th in the Brazilian Derby at 1 1/2 miles on turf in November 2004.

"He was a good horse in Brazil," Lobo said. "He needed the race at Santa Anita. The Brazilian Derby was too far, way too far."

Lobo said he has not used Garcia on any of his northern California shippers in the recent past. He said Secret Ridge's light assignment of 112 pounds made the diminutive Garcia a suitable rider for Saturday.

"Nobody does 112," Lobo said.

The Los Angeles Handicap is one of three stakes on Saturday's program, which is led by the $250,000 Jim Murray Memorial Handicap at 1 1/2 miles on turf.

The Murray is led by Grey Swallow, the winner of the 2004 Irish Derby and 2005 Tattersalls Gold Cup. Trained in Ireland by Dermot Weld, Grey Swallow is making his first start since October. His main competition is King's Drama, the winner of the San Luis Rey Handicap at Santa Anita in March.

Surf Cat, the winner of the Swaps Stakes last July and two sprint stakes earlier this year, will be a short-priced favorite in the $150,000 Mervyn LeRoy Handicap at 1 1/16 miles.

Milk It Mick unlikely for Shoemaker

Milk It Mick, who was a troubled third in the Grade 1 Woodford Reserve Turf Classic last Saturday at Churchill Downs, is likely to pass the Grade 1 Shoemaker Breeders' Cup Mile on May 29 in favor of a race later at the Hollywood Park meeting, trainer Jim Cassidy said.

The winner of the Grade 1 Kilroe Mile at Santa Anita in March, Milk It Mick, 5, has the Arlington Million on Aug. 12 as a goal for the summer. Cassidy said. The $300,000 Charles Whittingham Handicap on June 10 or the $250,000 American Handicap on July 2 are possibilities in coming weeks.

"We'll try to figure out which is the easier race," Cassidy said. "I'd like to see him jump up and win one of these big ones."

In the Woodford Reserve, Milk It Mick finished 1 1/4 lengths behind race winner English Channel. Ridden by Kent Desormeaux, Milk It Mick lacked racing room in the final 50 yards.

"Kent called that night and said he was on the best horse," Cassidy said.

Owned by Paul Dixon, Milk It Mick has won 6 of 24 starts and $656,752.

Sprints in Diplomat Lady's future

Diplomat Lady, who finished 13th in the Kentucky Oaks last Friday, will return to sprints, trainer Christopher Paasch said.

"We'll keep her at six or seven furlongs," Paasch said. "I would go a one-turn mile if it was the right spot."

In the Kentucky Oaks, Diplomat Lady disputed the lead before taking over briefly on the second turn. She faded quickly through the final quarter-mile under Alex Solis.

"Alex said she didn't like the track back there," Paasch said. "On the backstretch, she was struggling."

Owned by Charlie Cono, Diplomat Lady won the Beaumont Stakes at Keeneland in April.

Hallowed Dream Woodbine-bound

Hallowed Dream, the winner of the Yerba Buena Breeders' Cup Handicap at Golden Gate Fields last Sunday, will make her next start in the $300,000 Nassau Stakes at Woodbine on June 3, trainer Ben Cecil said.

Cecil said he was considering two June 3 races for Hallowed Dream: the Nassau Stakes, at 1 1/16 miles on turf, and the $300,000 Gamely Breeders' Cup Handicap at 1 1/8 miles on turf at Hollywood Park.

"It's the same kind of race and a much softer field," he said of the Woodbine race.

Owned by Gary Tanaka, Hallowed Dream, 4, has won 4 of 16 starts and $302,448. The Yerba Buena Handicap was her first stakes win. In Italy last year, before joining Cecil's stable, she finished second in the Group 1 Italian Oaks.

Cecil is sending four horses to race at Woodbine in coming weeks, in an attempt to capitalize on that track's slot-fueled purses.

"The competition is not quite as strong," he said. "They'll stay up there for a couple of races."