05/05/2002 11:00PM

Hot Market's stock is rising

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INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Hot Market was only a blip on the Santa Anita Derby undercard before he sped to a front-running upset April 6. By the end of the day, he had emerged as one of the most exciting older horses in California.

Hyperbole? Could be. After all, Hot Market has never raced in a stakes, and his reputation is based mainly on one performance. But what a dazzling performance it was. From 69 races this winter at Santa Anita at 1 1/16 miles, only one winner (bias-aided Western Pride) survived a six-furlong fraction more vicious than the 1:10.10 thrown down by Hot Market.

The intense six-furlong fraction followed a brutal 46.72-second half-mile that would have destroyed most front-runners. Not Hot Market. He opened up, and coasted home in 1:42.39. In the process, Hot Market earned a Quirin-style pace figure that approached Grade 1 par, and a 105 Beyer Speed Figure that exceeded par for a classified allowance. Trainer Craig Lewis, master of the understatement, said: "I thought he ran very well."

In fact, the win, Hot Market's third from nine starts, was brilliant. If he can duplicate it, this gelding by Cee's Tizzy should not lose a strong N2X allowance Thursday at Hollywood Park.

His foes include Mysterious Cat, dropping in class after a narrow loss in a Grade 2, and Total Impact, making his first start after a runner-up finish in the $2 million UAE Derby in Dubai. Three others entered the 1 1/16-mile allowance: Meckeme, and the entry of Jimmy Z and Palmeiro.

The race 7 feature is all about Hot Market, whose romping Cal-bred allowance win last February suggested to owner-breeder John Harris and co-owner Pere Antonsen (farm manager for Harris Farm) that he had Derby potential. But Hot Market came out of the race with a fractured sesamoid and was laid up for a year.

"It's a very difficult injury to come back from," Lewis said, "My main hope with him is that he stays together. If he does, he should be very productive. I just take it one race at a time with him."

Most offspring of Cee's Tizzy improve with age. A big, strapping gray, Hot Market is closely related to full brothers Tiznow and Budroyale - all three are by Cee's Tizzy, out of mares by Seattle Song. Hot Market's fast workouts since his last race indicate he has retained his form. His last three works were the fastest of the morning, including two at Hollywood.

"He's a horse that wants to train; he's eager to train," said Lewis.

Jose Valdivia rides Hot Market, whose only pace foe is the sprinter Meckeme. Assuming Hot Market copes with that foe, he only needs to hold off Mysterious Cat and Total Impact.

Mysterious Cat improved gradually through winter, winning a Cal-bred sprint in January, scoring a 21-1 allowance-route upset, then missing by head in the Grade 2 San Bernardino. A winner of 4 of 12, Mysterious Cat was nominated to the Grade 2 Mervyn LeRoy Handicap on Sunday, but will run Thursday instead. He is owned by Jeffrey Sengara, who owned Budroyale.

Total Impact's runner-up finish in the UAE Derby was better than it looks. Hounded throughout the race by wave after wave of Godolphin challengers, Total Impact put away every pace foe, only to be worn down by opportunistic closer Essence of Dubai. Total Impact, trained by Laura de Seroux, has worked fast since returning to California. A Chilean import with a record of 2 for 4, he might be good enough if he is not worn out from travel.

Big Cap winner returns

Milwaukee Brew, winner of the Santa Anita Handicap in his last start, worked six furlongs in 1:14.20 Monday at Hollywood Park and is expected to resume his campaign Sunday in the Grade 2 Mervyn LeRoy Handicap. Trained by Bobby Frankel, Milwaukee Brew will carry high weight of 122 pounds in the 1 1/16-mile Mervyn LeRoy. The LeRoy, and June 15 Californian, are the two preps leading to the Grade 1 Hollywood Gold Cup on July 14.

Probable starters for the $150,000 Mervyn LeRoy include: Milwaukee Brew; Sky Jack, 117; Bosque Redondo, 117; Reba's Gold, 115; Bay Head King, 113; and Agol Lack, 112. Grey Memo, winner of the Godolphin Mile in his last start, was nominated to the Mervyn LeRoy and would have carried 118 pounds. However, owner Pat Thompson and trainer Warren Stute have decided to send Grey Memo to Belmont for the Grade 1 Metropolitan Handicap on May 27.

The $65,000-added Nursery Stakes for 2-year-old fillies on Saturday will be the meet's first juvenile stakes. A full field is expected for the five-furlong race, including Global Finance, Singing Swiss, Flying Capote, Magic Smoke, and Feed the Kitty.

White hair and a big head

Bob Baffert is a real doll. Don't believe it? Hollywood Park has ordered 16,000 bobblehead dolls featuring Baffert's likeness to give away June 15. The giveaway has been in the planning stages for weeks, and was announced Sunday, the day after Baffert won the Kentucky Derby for the third time in six years, with War Emblem.

The bobblehead is the first of its kind featuring a horse trainer, and looks exactly like Baffert. The white-haired figurine is wearing sunglasses, light-blue jeans, a dark sport jacket, and cowboy boots. The Baffert doll's head is disproportionately large for the body, as were previous bobbleheads featuring jockeys Chris McCarron, Laffit Pincay, and Pat Day. The Baffert bobblehead was the brainchild of Allen Gutterman, Hollywood vice president for marketing. Gutterman predicts the Baffert bobblehead will be a hit with fans.

"If they love [Baffert], they're going to want one. If they hate him, they're going to want one," Gutterman said. "He's the most recognizable personality in racing."

Huge handle on Derby Day

Hollywood Park handled $23.8 million on Saturday, Kentucky Derby Day, the second-highest handle in the spring-summer meet's history and the third-highest in track history. The only higher handles at Hollywood were on the 1997 Breeders' Cup card ($67 million) and 1999 Kentucky Derby Day ($24.5 million). The handle Saturday represented a 4.4 percent increase over 2001, when the track handled $22.8 million.

Turf turns speedy

The Hollywood Park turf course profile has shifted. After a conspicuous anti-speed profile the first eight days of the meet, speed is no longer a liability. Four of the seven turf races since Friday (including two stakes) were won gate to wire.

On the main track, early speed continues to dominate sprints. The last 10 races at 6 1/2 furlongs were won by a horse within 2 1/2 lengths of the lead at the first pace call. At six furlongs, 10 of the 14 races have been won by a horse within one length at the first pace call. Every six-furlong winner was within three lengths of the early lead.