11/22/2002 12:00AM

As a gelding, Cottage has been great

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INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Cottage completed laying the groundwork for a stakes appearance at the upcoming Santa Anita winter meeting by scoring his third consecutive win in a $60,088 allowance race at Hollywood Park on Friday.

Racing over 1 1/16 miles on the main track, Cottage ($14) won by a neck over the heavily favored Euchre, handing that 6-year-old his ninth consecutive loss. Friday's win marked the conclusion of a difficult year with Cottage for trainer Bill Spawr.

Cottage arrived in the United States in late 2001 with a high reputation, having finished second in the Group 1 Gran Criterium in Argentina in June of that year. But nothing went well in his first few months with Spawr.

"We had to work with him and he was so difficult that we had to castrate him," Spawr said.

After an eighth-place finish in his U.S. debut in late July, Cottage launched his winning streak on Sept. 6 and scored again at Santa Anita on Oct. 13.

Friday, he was 6-1 in a five-horse field and rallied four wide to take the lead in the final furlong.

"He's tough in the morning, but he's really improved," Spawr said. "He still kind of runs in spots. He takes the lead and he wants to pull up."

Owned by Kip Knelman, Cottage has won 4 of 12 starts. Cottage could be pointed for the San Pasqual Handicap at Santa Anita in early January.

Bush Triumph's streak reaches five

A switch to turf and crafty use of claiming races has helped trainer Mike Mitchell guide Bush Triumph to a five-race winning streak.

A former maiden claimer, Bush Triumph is unbeaten since Aug. 19 when she scored an easy win in a seven-furlong race at Del Mar. She followed with a victory in a $25,000 claimer at Del Mar on Sept. 9 and wins during the Oak Tree meeting on Oct. 12 and 27.

The threat of losing Bush Triumph on Sept. 9 race gave Mitchell and owners Lenny and Yolanda Fishelberg fits.

"I was sweating bullets someone would claim her and take her up north," Mitchell said. "That was a race I felt like I stole."

Thursday, Bush Triumph overcame trouble in the stretch to win an optional claimer over a mile on turf. The 4-year-old Bush Triumph was one of six wins on Wednesday and Thursday for 55-year-old jockey Laffit Pincay Jr., who through Thursday had 9,463 career wins.

Mitchell and Pincay have been a team for 30 years, dating back to when Mitchell was an assistant trainer to Farrell Jones.

"I don't think his personality or will to win has changed," Mitchell said. "It's fun to ride the old guy. I think he'll break the 10,000 mark."

Castle Gandolfo will await Strub

Castle Gandolfo, the 12th-place finisher in the Kentucky Derby who was recently acquired by owner Paul Reddam, will bypass the $500,000 Hollywood Derby next weekend in favor of the Strub Series at Santa Anita this winter, trainer Craig Dollase said.

Previously trained by Aidan O'Brien in Ireland, Castle Gandolfo was third in a minor stakes in Ireland in September, but has not won since the Fosters International Trial Stakes on the all-weather dirt circuit at Lingfield Park in England on April 6.

Nine probable for next week's derby

Even without Castle Gandolfo there are nine probables for next Sunday's Hollywood Derby, run over 1 1/8 miles on turf. Johar, the winner of the Oak Tree Derby, will face Century City, Inesperado, Manaman McLir, Music's Storm, Rock Opera, Royal Gem, Surprized, and Union Place.

Like a Hero, who won the Alydar Stakes here last May, will not start. Trainer Beau Greely said that Like a Hero "strained himself behind" after a recent workout on turf and will be turned out until spring.

The Derby is one of three $500,000 races in the six-race Autumn Turf Festival over Thanksgiving weekend.

Good Journey, the third-place finisher in the Breeders' Cup Mile at Arlington Park, will attempt to defend his title in next Saturday's $500,000 Citation Handicap over 1 1/16 miles on turf.

Good Journey is expected to face Capsized, Decarchy, Forbidden Apple, Investor's Dream, Kachamandi, Kimberlite Pipe, Nicobar, Night Life, Night Patrol, Seinne, and Touch of the Blues.

In next Sunday's $500,000 Matriarch Stakes, Golden Apples will be favored to win her third Grade 1 of the year and enhance her chances for the Eclipse Award as the nation's outstanding turf female.

She will face a small field that includes Affluent, Banks Hill, Choc Ice, Dress to Thrill, Tates Creek, and Tout Charmant.

* Half the field for Friday's third race was loaded into the gate when customers were informed that 2-1 favorite Wuzzup Dunc was being ridden by Victor Espinoza, a replacement for Kevin Krigger. Wuzzup Dunc ($6) rallied from just off the pace to win by 1 1/4 lengths. Steward George Slender said the jockeys' room official responsible for providing the information to the track announcer and the media forgot to make the calls.