01/07/2003 1:00AM

Hard to like Mayakovsky in this spot


ARCADIA, Calif. - A handicapper must study long and hard to find reasons to wager on Mayakovsky in Thursday's second race at Santa Anita. But wager against Mayakovsky in the turf route? That's easy.

For starters, Mayakovsky is just prepping for a $1 million race that is only 16 days away. He also is racing for the first time on grass, over a two-turn mile distance at which he has yet to win. Finally, there is the issue of current form. In his Dec. 26 comeback in the Grade 1 Malibu Stakes, Mayakovsky finished in front of only two horses. The only thing Mayakovsky did right that day was beat the favorite, Sunday Break, who ran last.

Mayakovsky once was a good horse, and he could score a surprise in the $80,000 optional claimer Thursday. In-form Marine, however, is the most likely winner among six starters. The race is the first of two allowances on the card; one-other-than fillies and mares race six furlongs in the seventh race.

Trainer Patrick Biancone hopes Mayakovsky can develop into a top older horse.

"He had not run for a very long time" going into the Malibu, Biancone said, "and he choked a little bit." Mayakovsky lost his air into the turn and quickly lost contact with the field.

That race was supposed to be his prep for the $1 million Sunshine Millions Classic, a 1 1/8-mile, two-turn race on Jan. 25 at Gulfstream. But he didn't get enough out of the effort, hence his appearance Thursday.

"I would prefer the race be on dirt, but we need a race around two turns," Biancone said, adding "I galloped him on grass a few times, and he didn't seem to mind."

Mayakovsky was sired by Matty G, who won his first start on grass and later became a Grade 3 winner on turf. Mayakovsky and jockey Tony Farina could get brave with the rails at a speed-friendly 30 feet, but it is logical to expect Marine will wear him down.

Trained by Bobby Frankel and ridden by Pat Valenzuela, Marine finished fourth last out in a classified allowance. He now drops drastically in class. A 5-year-old with 5 wins from 19 starts, Marine is hoping for better fortune than in his most recent start on the Santa Anita turf. In that Nov. 1 race, Marine was blocked most of the stretch drive and missed by a half-length in a race he otherwise would have won.

Splendid Times, Dream Machine, Poker Brad, and Alyzig complete the field.

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