06/07/2007 11:00PM

Hucking Hot set to make amends for last debacle


PHOENIX - I've been to Keeneland a number of times and found the experience nothing short of wonderful. Apparently, however, Hucking Hot is not quite as enchanted with the Bluegrass State. Her connections are hoping a return home to Southern California can get the 3-year-old filly back on track in Sunday's Grade 2 Hollywood Breeders' Cup Oaks at 1 1/16 miles.

A daughter of Desert Prince, Hucking Hot began her career in England where she won 1 of 4 starts before being purchased by a partnership headed by Jim Ford and sent to the United States.

She joined trainer Paddy Gallagher's barn and made a smart first impression, winning the Hidden Light Stakes on the turf at Santa Anita in her U.S. debut in October. She was fifth behind the very classy Valbenny in the Grade 3 Miesque, again on the turf, before trying the Grade 1 Hollywood Starlet on the Cushion Track in December. She was slow into stride that day and had traffic troubles, but kept to her task and finished fourth. The race surely had to give her connections hope for 2007.

And things started off well enough this year, as Hucking Hot rallied to be second, beaten a head, in the China Doll on the turf at Santa Anita March 3. With that race under her belt and the memory of a good run on a synthetic surface, she was sent to Keeneland for a go in the Grade 1 Ashland over the Polytrack in April. She shipped there, but didn't get a chance to run.

She was spooked in the post parade, unseating her rider and running loose. She careened into the rail, fell, and was scratched.

Gallagher cannot pinpoint what spooked Hucking Hot at Keeneland, but said she needed time to recover from superficial injuries.

"She ducked away from the pony," he said. "She got a bit scared when she was running. She sort of hit the rail and went down. When she got back up, it was just scrapes and marks. We're lucky that they cleared up."

Healthy again, she's ready to take another run on Hollywood's Cushion Track, and Gallagher is encouraged because she handled it so well in the Starlet.

"She ran really well that day," he said.

She will face the Railbird one-two finishers, Ashley's Kitten and Silver Swallow, who are both in sharp form. She also takes on Tough Tiz's Sis, the Sunland Oaks winner who ran poorly in the Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks, but that was on a muddy track against the division's elite. She's back home now.

With monsters Rags to Riches and Magnificience among the missing from the Hollywood Oaks lineup, a return to top form can help Hucking Hot make up for that distressing trip to Kentucky.

Watch out for this new shooter

The handicap division out West doesn't lack depth, with Lava Man (who was to run in Saturday's Whittingham), Molengao, Buzzards Bay, and Bob and John among hoses targeting the division's top prizes. Another name to watch now is Visa Parade. A Grade 1 winner in his native Argentina, Visa Parade made an encouraging U.S. debut in Golden Gate's Grade 3 Berkeley Handicap last weekend.

Visa Parade was very keen early in the Berkeley, his first race since October. He pressed a fast pace, ran up on heels going to the far turn, and was forced to steady, but came again with a strong run for second.

He was unable to fend off big closer My Creed but was the only one of the speed horses still around at the end. With that race under his belt, Visa Parade could be scary at a price in the Grade 1 Hollywood Gold Cup later this month for trainer John Sadler. Even rider Russell Baze was impressed.

"He's a very nice horse," said Baze. "There's a lot of talent there. He was just a little too keen today coming off that layoff. He was the last man standing of the ones that were up there early. I imagine next time he'll be double-tough to beat. He's a racehorse."