06/20/2009 11:00PM

Hard to find the favorite in Cinema


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - An anonymous cast of 3-year-old turf runners reappears Sunday at Hollywood Park in the Grade 3 Cinema Handicap, the only stakes of the spring meet for a hollow division.


At nine furlongs, the Cinema would have been easy pickings for California's top 3-year-old turf runner. Battle of Hastings, however, was to run Saturday for a $500,000 purse at Colonial Downs, leaving a modest field of eight to run for $100,000 in the Cinema.

Elusive Bluff is the 118-pound highweight based on his Grade 3 victory in the Pilgrim Stakes at Belmont Park. That race was more than eight months ago, and early this week trainer Eric Guillot suggested the 2-for-2 colt might need a start.

That leaves allowance winners Oil Man and Herr Mozart, and stakes-placed Arden Park and Massone, as the chief Cinema participants. Three others include off-form stakes winner Flashmans Papers, maiden front-runner Arcordo, and potential pace rival Dover Street Art.

It has been 13 years since a favorite won the Cinema, and this year's field is so muddled that it is difficult to identify the favorite. It could be Oil Man, an import from Europe who was expected to be farther up the ladder by now. He has won just 1 of 5 U.S. starts, mainly because his campaign was sidetracked.

After a fourth-place U.S. debut, he switched to Santa Anita's main track and finished nowhere behind Pioneerof the Nile. Oil Man returned to turf for a mile allowance in February, closed from last to fourth, and galloped out in front. Good enough to go on the road, Oil Man was foiled by yielding turf at Keeneland and again finished nowhere.

Trainer John Sadler re-grouped, found a 1 1/8-mile allowance race on firm going, and Oil Man was up late to win by a nose. That was two months ago, and if Oil Man reproduces the effort Sunday under Joel Rosario he can win.

Herr Mozart won a mile turf allowance in late March and is racing for the first time since then. Bob Baffert trains Herr Mozart; Victor Espinoza rides.

Arden Park was compromised by an impossibly wide trip May 23 at Golden Gate, when he was four wide to the far turn and missed by a length. Arden Park will be ridden by Rafael Bejarano. Massone finished third as the odds-on favorite in that race.