03/17/2005 12:00AM

Grand Appointment red-hot invader


It's a battle pitting Arizona against California in the $100,000 Phoenix Gold Cup at Turf Paradise on Saturday. A six-furlong race, the Phoenix Gold Cup is the marquee event of the meet and matches the best sprinters in the Arizona circuit against a band of talented raiders from California. In all, the race will have 12 runners.

Favoritism may fall to one of the three 119-pound highweights, all of whom are from Southern California.

Grand Appointment is razor-sharp for trainer Doug O'Neill. A 7-year-old son of Unbridled, Grand Appointment had always hinted at ability and appears to have put it all together in recent months, rattling off three straight wins at Santa Anita for Beyers of 102, 103, and 99. His most recent victory came in the Sensational Star Handicap on Feb. 20, when he got a pace-pressing trip and finished strongly. O'Neill leads the Santa Anita trainer standings, and won with his only other invader to race at Turf Paradise this meet. Mick Ruis rides.

Also tabbed at 119 pounds are Roi Charmant and Indian Country. Roi Charmant has sizzling speed. Trained by Michael Machowsky, he has won two of his last three at Santa Anita and has stakes experience, finishing second in the Grade 3 San Miguel at Santa Anita in early 2004. Kerwin John rides. Indian Country, trained by Bob Baffert, also has great speed. Last time in the Daytona Handicap at Santa Anita on Feb. 20, he dueled through sizzling splits and held well to be third. Casey Fusilier rides.

The local contingent is led by Flying Supercon, Palmerton, and Cocoa Latte, all weighted at 115 pounds. Flying Supercon comes off the best race of his career, when he won the Coyote Handicap here on Feb. 26 in wire-to-wire fashion. He beat many of his Saturday rivals that day and earned a 103 Beyer. Adolfo Morales rides.

Palmerton won the Answer Do over Flying Supercon here Jan. 11, then was second in the Jan. 29 Swift before finishing fourth to Flying Supercon in the Coyote. With plenty of speed in the field, Palmerton may fall into a nice trip here with his stalking style. Miguel Hernandez rides.

Cocoa Latte, trained by Don Mills, chased the pace while very wide in the Coyote and faded to sixth. He is much better than that, however, as he showed when he took the Paradise Valley and Rocket Bar earlier in the meet and when he won the Honor the Hero on Feb. 11 here in the slop by more than 11 lengths. Scott Stevens rides.

Muir Beach takes on Very Vegas

The best local filly or mare and a fast, classy Southern Californian knock heads in the co-featured $40,000 Sun City Handicap at a mile on turf. Muir Beach and Very Vegas, both tabbed at 122 pounds, lead the field of eight. Muir Beach has been a rock, winning six of her last nine and finishing second in the other three races. She beat Very Vegas in the Kachina Handicap here Jan. 15, but Very Vegas beat her in the Queen of the Green here at a mile on Nov. 27. Fusilier rides.

Very Vegas ships back from Southern California for trainer Marcelo Polanco, who has won 5 of 13 races here. After finishing third to Muir Beach in the Kachina, Very Vegas showed high speed but faltered to fourth in the Wishing Well, a grass sprint, at Santa Anita on Jan. 30. She has been freshened since and is certainly dangerous.