06/14/2004 11:00PM

'Image' aims for Gold Cup after nose loss

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INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Despite losing the Grade 1 Stephen Foster Handicap by a nose Saturday, Southern Image validated his reputation as one of the nation's leading handicap horses. He will risk that reputation in the Grade 1 Hollywood Gold Cup on July 10. But is four weeks sufficient recovery time after a grueling race run over a sloppy Churchill Downs racetrack?

"That's always a concern," trainer Mike Machowsky said Tuesday. "We'll see how he acts in the next week or 10 days."

Southern Image returned Sunday to Santa Anita, and early indications are he can run right back.

"He's sure acting good right now," Machowsky said. "The Gold Cup is still the plan." Southern Image would be the solid Gold Cup favorite; Californian winner Even the Score would be the second favorite.

Southern Image "had me worried in Kentucky," Machowsky said. "The humidity and heat was so bad, he was quiet for a few days."

The trainer said Southern Image rebounded when the weather cooled, and the only concern was the wet surface. Machowsky said Southern Image wore four bandages to prevent him from cutting himself. Southern Image did not wear mud calks.

The long-range goal is the Breeders' Cup Classic, and Machowsky will use the Grade 1 Pacific Classic on Aug. 22 at Del Mar as the 4-year-old's prep.

"I want the Pacific Classic to be his last race before the Breeders' Cup," he said. "He runs well so fresh - it's an advantage."

By then, BC Classic and Dubai World Cup winner Pleasantly Perfect is expected to be back in action. Pleasantly Perfect worked a half-mile Sunday, and returned to the track Tuesday. Machowsky's former boss Richard Mandella trains Pleasantly Perfect, and Machowsky admits "we're watching the work tab on him."

Mullins pulls horses out of Hollywood

Jeff Mullins entered Wednesday tied with Mike Mitchell for the lead in the Hollywood Park training standings, but a rash of injuries caused Mullins to pull all 30 horses he had based at Hollywood and relocate them to Santa Anita.

"I ruined 10 head in three weeks," Mullins said, adding that the injuries were wide-ranging and occurred while training. "It's bone one week and soft tissue the next week. I don't know what it is, all I know is I didn't have those problems [at Santa Anita]."

Mullins will continue to race at Hollywood, and will ship in to run.

Choctaw Nation, who has won all four of his starts - including three since Mullins claimed him for $40,000 - will not run in the Hollywood Gold Cup. Instead, Mullins said he was nominated to the $300,000 Prairie Meadows Cornhusker Breeders' Cup Handicap on July 1.

Summer Wind Dancer, winner of the Grade 3 Hawthorne on June 6, will drop in class for her next start, which will come against California-bred fillies and mares July 17 in the $75,000 Valkyr Stakes.

"I don't know many California-breds who can go a mile and a quarter on turf," Mullins said.

Mullins plans to run Buddy Gil on Sunday at Bay Meadows in the $55,000 Foster City Handicap at 1 1/16 miles on turf.

Momentum, 6, retired with injury

Grade 3 winner Momentum has retired from racing after an old injury resurfaced in his May 31 comeback in the Shoemaker Mile at Hollywood Park.

"He had an episode in his tendon again, so we're going to find him a home," trainer Craig Dollase said.

Owned by J. Paul Reddam, Momentum won four races and $664,817 from 17 starts, and in 2002 finished second in two Grade 1's - the Hollywood Gold Cup and Pacific Classic. He won the Grade 3 Native Diver Handicap in 2001.

Dollase said a decision would be made soon on where Momentum, a 6-year-old by Nureyev, will stand as a stallion. Momentum had been away from racing for 19 months because of a previous tendon injury.

Wimplestiltskin works bullet

Wimplestiltskin is knocking on the door. After a bullet five-furlong workout Monday, trainer Marcelo Polanco hopes the 3-year-old is ready to break through Saturday in the Grade 3 Affirmed Handicap for 3-year-olds. Runner-up in three stakes, including the Grade 2 Laz Barrera Handicap May 29, Wimplestiltskin worked in 58 seconds Monday at Santa Anita.

"He did it on his own," Polanco said. "He's very sharp."

Wimplestiltskin has one win and four seconds from eight starts, and finished off the board in his only start around two turns.

A prep for the Grade 2 Swaps on July 10, the Affirmed is run at 1 1/16 miles. That may be a long way for another Affirmed contender, Twice as Bad, who won the seven-furlong Barrera by three lengths in his first start of 2004 but is winless in three tries around two turns. He earned a 95 Beyer Speed Figure in the Barrera, his first start since being purchased by Mercedes Stables and transferred to Vladimir Cerin.

Twice as Bad will be joined in the Affirmed by stablemate Boomzeeboom. Others expected are Snow Chief Stakes winner Cheiron, O.K. Mikie, and Coldntight.

Actxecutive to skip Haggin Stakes

Actxecutive, the fastest nominee to Sunday's $75,000 Haggin Stakes, will skip the 2-year-old sprint, according to his new trainer, Bob Baffert. Actxecutive was purchased by owner Jim McIngvale and transferred to Baffert following a May 31 win at Calder in which he earned a 91 Beyer.

Actxecutive worked five furlongs in 59 seconds Monday, but Baffert said he had gotten sick after arriving from Florida and would not run Sunday.

"He's a really nice colt - I don't want to get in a hurry with him," Baffert said. "We didn't buy him to win the Haggin Stakes, we bought him to win the Kentucky Derby or the Breeders' Cup. He's got a beautiful, long stride."

The 5 1/2-furlong Haggin will be led by Willard Proctor winner Chandtrue. Others expected are Fallfree, Gentleman Count, Lotta Loot, and Mr. Fondue.