11/27/2006 12:00AM

He's ready to be unleashed


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - The schizophrenic Hollywood Derby has displayed more personalities than Sybil. They just can't leave the race alone.

When Busher beat the boys in 1945, it was a nine-furlong, early summer main-track event.

When Round Table won it in 1958, it had stretched to 1 1/4 miles, and for some reason it had been renamed the Westerner.

In 1972, when Riva Ridge packed 129 to win just three weeks after taking the Belmont, it was the Hollywood Derby again, and one of the best runnings anyone has ever seen.

Naturally then, the following year, the Hollywood Derby morphed into a 1 1/2-mile turf event. This turned out to be such a popular move that it lasted for three mostly forgettable runnings.

From 1976 through 1980, the Hollywood Derby was repositioned as the final West Coast prep for the Kentucky Derby. The only one of those five winners that truly mattered was Affirmed, although Codex, Flying Paster, Crystal Water, and Steve's Friend were hardly chopped liver.

Since 1981 and the expansion of Southern California racing year-round, the Hollywood Derby has found itself presented on the grass at the end of the long season, first at nine furlongs and then at 10, beginning in 2003.

Some good ones have won, too, including Royal Heroine, Paradise Creek, Itsallgreektome, and Marlin. It is safe to say, however, that none of them were as impressive as the 2006 winner, Showing Up.

At 4-5 and unbeaten by fellow 3-year-olds on grass, Showing Up figured to make his trip from Belmont Park worthwhile. He'd already won races in Florida, Kentucky, New York, Virginia, and Illinois, so a trip to California was hardly an issue. The ground was firm and dry - no excuses there - and all 10 starters carried 122 pounds, scale for the distance and time of year.

Even so, it was a sight to see. Showing Up separated himself from the rest of his generation on grass once and for all, with a 2 1/4-length victory that featured nine furlongs of just toddling along with the boys, followed by a final furlong of controlled explosion to clinch the deal in 1:59.35. Those who could not avert their eyes got to watch Showing Up gallop out around the clubhouse turn faster than most horses will ever run.

"He never ceases to amaze me," said his trainer, Barclay Tagg. "I'm impressed every time he runs."

The temptation to overlay Showing Up's Hollywood Derby onto either the Breeders' Cup Turf or the Mile was too great for some to resist, which meant Tagg once again had to explain why passing a race at one point could mean bushels of prize money down the line.

"I really didn't feel he was Breeders' Cup material this year," Tagg said. "Even though he was very good at everything he did, he was still acting like a 3-year-old to me. He's maturing all the time, so I thought he'd probably be a bigger and stronger horse next year."

Such fine points of the training craft should not be lost on owners, who can sometimes get in a hurry. Certainly, Roy and Gretchen Jackson are inclined to give Tagg all the leeway he needs to let Showing Up develop into a 4-year-old turf monster. After all, he has taken their $60,000 Timonium sale purchase from a maiden win last February to $1.6 million in winnings in nine polished starts, never missing a beat.

"I think he's good enough to be a champion, but there's no championship out there for him this year," Tagg said. "Hopefully, he can do enough to be a champion next year."

Frankel gets his seventh Matriarch

"Come on over and watch this one," said Gary Brinson, Hollywood's starter, as the field for the $500,000 Matriarch filed to the post, about an hour after the Derby.

It was a golden offer, to watch 14 amped-up fillies and mares, thrown together from New York, Europe, and California into one starting gate and sent on a short run to the first turn. The Matriarch's mile on the one-mile course can sometimes be a mess, but the race is always entertaining, and this one was no different.

They were ladies, mostly, with only the French filly Danzon needing reassurance that it was, in fact, a gate and not a guillotine. Once set, the 14 left as a wild team, strung themselves out, and then 10 of them came together at the end, barely 3 1/2 lengths apart.

The winner, getting through a seam at just the right time, was Price Tag, the 2006 French 1000 Guineas winner owned by Juddmonte Farm and trained for her first American start by Bobby Frankel. This was no real surprise, since the same owner-trainer combo had already won the Matriarch four times. What was a shock is that Price Tag does not spring from that oilwell of a broodmare named Hasili, the dam of Matriarch winners Heat Haze (2003) and Intercontinental (2004). Instead, Price Tag is by Dansili, a son of Hasili.

"What a sweetheart of a filly - never does a thing wrong," said a grinning Frankel as he strode forth to greet the winner. "How many is that, six in this race?"

In fact, Price Tag makes seven Matriarchs for Frankel, all since 1996, and tying Charlie Whittingham for the all-time mark. The good news is that she will stick around to race next year.