07/25/2002 11:00PM

Hard to look past Beat Hollow


DEL MAR, Calif. - Beat Hollow may have one chink in his armor, but it is not likely to show Sunday when he starts as the dominant favorite in the Grade 1, $400,000 Eddie Read Handicap at Del Mar.

Back-to-back Grade 1 wins this spring have earned Beat Hollow the reputation as the nation's top turf horse, a consensus trainer Bobby Frankel does not dispute. "Up to a certain distance, he probably is the best. Right now, a mile and an eighth, to a mile and quarter, is probably his best distance."

That makes the 1 1/8-mile Read perfect. Freshened seven weeks since the Manhattan at Belmont Park, Beat Hollow faces five rivals. They are 2001 Read winner Redattore, race-ready comebacker Deploy Venture, course specialist Sarafan, and longshots Night Patrol and Casey Griffin. There is little reason to expect Beat Hollow will be defeated.

"He's never taken a backward step," Frankel said. "He's got a ton of speed, he'll probably be laying first or second." In fact, the only apparent dilemma facing Beat Hollow is later this year at the Breeders' Cup - will he start in the $2 million Turf or the $1 million Mile?

Frankel hopes Beat Hollow eventually will settle down enough to allow the option of trying for the higher purse. Currently, the 12-furlong Turf poses a challenge. "I think he'll get a mile and a half, but he's a little keen right now, he pulls a little bit. He might be a great miler."

Not that it matters Sunday. Beat Hollow enters the Read as a standout after winning 6 of 8 and more than $1 million for Juddmonte Farms. In addition, Beat Hollow's form lines are strong. The horse he beat in May in the Woodford Reserve (With Anticipation) returned to win a Grade 1. The horse Beat Hollow defeated last out (Forbidden Apple) returned Friday to finish third in the Grade 2 Bernard Baruch at Saratoga.

Another victory Sunday by Beat Hollow would affirm his status as favorite for the most prestigious turf race of summer - the Arlington Million on Aug. 17 and a showdown with Suances. Though Suances was nominated to the Read, trainer Darrell Vienna said he was a tired horse after finishing fourth in the United Nations at Monmouth. Vienna will train Suances up to the Million.

Vienna is not without representation Sunday. While recognizing Beat Hollow is the proper favorite, Vienna expects Deploy Venture to run huge while starting for the first time in 16 months. Deploy Venture, who is 5 for 27 lifetime and won a Grade 3 and placed in a Grade 1 in 2000, has trained super for his return.

"He's doing really well, he's a horse that has some quality. I don't think he's been diminished by the time off," Vienna said. Deploy Venture did not have a specific injury. Said Vienna: "His ankles were just getting kind of soft, so we gave him plenty of time."

While Vienna expects Deploy Venture to fire first start back, trainer Richard Mandella is confident Redattore will rebound following a troubled fifth in a June 15 dirt race. Redattore was knocked around at the start, unsettled, and never able to establish position in a race Mandella suggests handicappers simply draw a line through.

"That's what I'm doing," he said. "But I'm the horse's trainer. He usually gives his best. I'm not going to hold one day against him."

In fact, Redattore's best form puts him squarely in the hunt, and he should get a comfortable trip pressing a slow pace. Alex Solis has been Redattore's regular rider, but with Solis opting for Beat Hollow, Laffit Pincay Jr. rides Redattore.

Sarafan, the only horse to defeat Beat Hollow at 10 furlongs or less, is the potential upsetter. He outfinished Beat Hollow by a neck in the Explosive Bid Handicap in March, had a troubled trip June 15 in the Whittingham, and finished a good third last out in the United Nations. Sarafan's only start on the Del Mar turf last year resulted in a $26.80 upset in a minor stakes.

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