12/18/2004 1:00AM

Grand Reward to try dirt


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Grand Reward, one of the best bred horses in training, is likely to make his dirt debut in the $250,000 Malibu Stakes at Santa Anita next Sunday.

Owned by the partnership of Bob and Beverly Lewis, Michael Tabor, and Susan Magnier, Grand Reward is by top stallion Storm Cat out of Serena's Song, the champion mare the Lewises campaigned in the 1990's.

So far, Grand Reward has started only on turf in Europe, compiling a modest record of 2 wins in 14 starts, while placing in six stakes.

Bob Lewis said the final decision on whether Grand Reward will start rests with trainer D. Wayne Lukas.

"He's not bred for the grass, but he's turned in some incredible performances," Lewis said of Grand Reward. "We feel strongly that dirt is his means. That's one of the reasons we have encouraged our associates in Ireland to bring the horse here."

Previously trained by Aidan O'Brien, Grand Reward has not started since finishing second in the Waterford Testimonial Stakes at The Curragh in Ireland on Oct. 10. Grand Reward finished 3 1/2 lengths behind Striking Ambition, who returned to win a stakes in France last month.

In the Malibu, Grand Reward will be making his third appearance of the year in a Grade 1 or Group 1 race, having finished fifth in the Irish 2000 Guineas in May and last of 15 in the Prix de l'Abbaye over a straightaway five furlongs at Longchamp in October.

The Malibu is run over seven furlongs. Lukas is seeking his first win in the Malibu since On the Line in 1987.

The Malibu will have a large field. The probable starters include Action This Day, Areyoutalkintome, Harvard Avenue, Love of Money, Minister Eric, Perfect Moon, Pomeroy, Rock Hard Ten, Saratoga County, Spellbinder, and Stone Rain. Imperialism and Cheiron are also candidates.

Trainers Richard Mandella and Doug O'Neill account for seven of the candidates. Mandella trains Action This Day, Minister Eric, Rock Hard Ten, and Spellbinder. O'Neill trains Areyoutalkintome, Harvard Avenue, and Perfect Moon.

Flores gets mount on Sweet Catomine

Jockey David Flores has been named to ride Sweet Catomine, the nation's top 2-year-old filly, in the $100,000 Santa Ysabel Stakes on Jan. 9, owner Marty Wygod said.

Flores will replace Corey Nakatani, who will be serving a suspension in January.

Sweet Catomine has not started since winning the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies at Lone Star Park on Oct. 30, her third consecutive stakes win.

Trained by Julio Canani, Sweet Catomine is expected to be named champion 2-year-old filly.

Wygod declined to comment on whether Flores would retain the mount when Nakatani's suspension ends in early February.

Nakatani is suspended for 30 days, from Sunday through Feb. 3, for causing interference in a turf race at Santa Anita last March that led to jockey Javier Santiago being unseated. Santiago was not injured.

Nakatani fought the suspension, but lost a court ruling in October.

Espinoza makes another appeal

Jockey Victor Espinoza has requested a stay from the California Horse Racing Board in an effort to launch further appeals of a seven-day suspension he received from the Santa Anita stewards last March.

Espinoza appealed the suspension to an administrative law judge, who upheld the stewards' ruling. The CHRB endorsed the administrative law judge's opinion during a recent meeting.

The suspension is scheduled to begin on Sunday and continue for seven racing days, through Jan. 2.

John targets January for return

Jockey Kerwin John, who suffered a broken pelvis in a training accident at Santa Anita in November, will not ride for the first two weeks of the Santa Anita meeting while he continues to recover.

According to his agent, Sue McBrayer, John, 29, is hoping to make a comeback in early January, pending doctor's clearance.

John won 50 races in 2004, including the Grade 2 Lady's Secret Breeders' Cup Handicap aboard Island Fashion in early October.

Yearly Report tops Malibu probables

The Malibu is the first of two Grade 1 races in the first week of the Santa Anita meeting. On Dec. 27, the $250,000 La Brea Stakes for 3-year-old fillies over seven furlongs will include Yearly Report, a five-time stakes winner. She has not started since winning the Stonerside Stakes at Lone Star Park on Oct. 29.

Saturday, Yearly Report worked six furlongs in 1:10.40, the fastest of 18 recorded works in the distance.

Yearly Report is trained by Bob Baffert, whose wife, Jill, gave birth to a son, Bode, on Thursday. Bode Baffert weighed in at 7 pounds, 10 ounces.

Only three left to run in claiming race

Anyone late to Hollywood Park on Saturday did not miss much.

The first race, a sprint for $22,500 to $25,000 claimers, drew eight entrants, but had only three starters. Snatch the Cash and Smuggler's Run were reported as injured, Presumption and Misty's Golden Touch were reported as sick, while At a Boy Harry was entered back on Sunday's program.

Pepper Trail ($2.40) won comfortably, scoring his third consecutive victory.