06/11/2001 12:00AM

Gold Nugget set to defend Dallas Turf Cup


GRAND PRAIRIE, Texas - Gold Nugget will be reunited with Bobby Walker Jr. for the Dallas Turf Cup at Lone Star Park on Saturday, a race the pair won in a 16-1 upset last year when they defeated a tough field of shippers. Kerrygold heads the group of out-of-state horses probable for this year's running of the 1 1/8-mile handicap, which has been boosted in value from $250,000 to $300,000.

Kerrygold, third in the Grade 2 San Francisco Breeders' Cup at Bay Meadows in April for trainer Darrell Vienna, arrived at Lone Star on Monday. Also on the flight from California was Dallas Turf Cup probable El Gran Papa, a recent Hollywood Park allowance winner for trainer Bobby Frankel. Expected to arrive from Kentucky on Wednesday is Vergennes and possibly Thesaurus.

Another possible shipper is Del Mar Show, a winner of his last four who would start as the highweight if he goes following the Monday morning defection of North East Bound, who canceled plans to come because of transportation issues, said trainer Bill Perry. Locals expected are Candid Glen, Nat's Big Party, Dignitas Dancer and possibly Royal Spy. The Dallas Turf Cup is to air live on CBS as part of the new "NTRA Champions" series. It will be the first network-televised race from Texas.

Bobby Walker, who has been riding at Canterbury Park, guided Gold Nugget, a winner of $517,581, to a front-running victory in the Dallas Turf Cup last year, but the strategy for this year's running may change, said trainer Randy Mayfield, who worked Gold Nugget five furlongs in 1:00.60 on Sunday. "I slowed him down a little bit in his work," said Mayfield. "I didn't want to bullet work him and get him on the muscle. The game plan is to take him off the pace in this race."

Perner retires from riding

Eric Perner, a popular Mid-South jockey who won last year's Fifth Season Breeders' Cup at Oaklawn Park with Mr Ross, has retired from the saddle, and hopes to work someday as a trainer. Perner decided against race riding at the start of the Lone Star meet, and has since been galloping horses in Grand Prairie. "My mind kept telling me I wanted to ride, but my body kept telling me no, so I had to quit," said Perner, who dislocated his shoulder and fractured some of the joints in it in a spill last June at Lone Star. "I never did come back the same off that shoulder injury."

Perner, 31, was also tired of fighting his weight, and said he had to consider his future as he was married in December. "It's hard to quit when that's all you've known," said Perner. "For 12 years that's all I did, so it was a hard decision to make." Perner was introduced to racing by his uncle, Curtis Perner, a former jockey who now trains. During his career the younger Perner won a riding title at The Downs at Albuquerque, and also captured stakes with Smiling Time and Darrell Darrell.

* Wacky Becky, whose maiden win came in the $25,000 Sam Houston Oaks last March, reunites with her rider from that race, Glen Murphy, for an entry-level allowance Wednesday night. The six-furlong race has also drawn Towellwithit, an eight-length winner in her last start for trainer Cole Norman, and Nina K, who won a Claiming Crown Preview race June 2.