06/19/2005 11:00PM

Indian Ocean starting to get good for Robbins

Benoit & Associates
Indian Ocean (left) wins Saturday's Affirmed, the third straight win in his four-race career.

INGLEWOOD, Calif. - The temptation to compare Indian Ocean, the winner of Saturday's Grade 3 Affirmed Handicap at Hollywood Park, with Tiznow, who won the same race in 2000, has yet to strike trainer Jay Robbins.

Robbins oversaw the career of Tiznow, who blossomed in the second half of 2000, winning the Breeders' Cup Classic en route to being named Horse of the Year. Although Indian Ocean is definitely a horse to follow in the 3-year-old division, Robbins says he is reluctant to put him in the same league as Tiznow.

Like Indian Ocean, Tiznow was a late developer, who improved remarkably in the second half of 2000. Indian Ocean is getting better in a hurry as well, but the stoic Robbins is withholding his enthusiasm - for now.

"He's going in the right direction, but he might have distance limitations," he said.

Little of that was on display in the Affirmed. Indian Ocean stalked pacesetter Dover Dere for the first six furlongs of the 1 1/16-mile race, then raced three wide on the final turn and into the stretch before holding off a four-wide Surf Cat to win by a neck.

Robbins said he feared Indian Ocean would be beaten on the turn when Indian Ocean was battling for the lead. It was a false alarm.

"I thought he'd spit it out," Robbins said. "For the last half-mile, it was a pleasant surprise."

The performance was all the more impressive considering that jockey Jon Court hit Indian Ocean only three times in the stretch, yet still got a quick response. The cool run by Indian Ocean was much different than the one in his win in an allowance race at 1 1/16 miles on May 25. In that race, Indian Ocean was erratic through the stretch before winning by a length.

"I think he learned a lot the first three times he rode him," Robbins said of Court.

Saturday's win marked Indian Ocean's third consecutive victory in a four-race career. Owned by Mercedes Stable, Indian Ocean has won $122,880.

Like Tiznow did during his 2000 campaign, Indian Ocean will start in the $400,000 Swaps Stakes at 1 1/8 miles on July 9. The race will mark the longest start of his career and will be more difficult. Don't Get Mad, a two-time stakes winner at Churchill Downs this spring, is an expected starter. Surf Cat will be back, too.

"We don't have a lot of options," Robbins said. "We went through that in 2000."

Tiznow is the best horse Robbins has trained, but during his career Robbins enjoyed keeping a low profile. There were no prerace promises of victories or postrace grandstanding for championships. Tiznow's record said plenty.

So far, Indian Ocean has proven to be a rising star. Even Robbins will admit to that.

"He's more composed than Tiznow," he said. "He's not Tiznow, but he can run. He's come a long way fast."

Megahertz to Beverly Hills Handicap

Megahertz, the leading female turf runner in California, will start in Saturday's $200,000 Beverly Hills Handicap at 1 1/4 miles, trainer Bobby Frankel said Sunday.

The race will mark her first appearance at the meeting. Frankel waited until the release of the weights Sunday before making the decision. Megahertz will carry 124 pounds, a one-pound increase over her assignment in the Grade 2 Santa Barbara Handicap at 1 1/4 miles on turf at Santa Anita in February, when she scored her 11th stakes win.

Megahertz was assigned 124 pounds for the Grade 1 Gamely Breeders' Cup Handicap here on May 30, but Frankel said he felt the assignment was too high.

Saturday, Megahertz will not face a large field. As of Sunday, the probable candidates include Agata, Uraib, and Winendynme, all of whom have been assigned 115 pounds; and Halo Ola, who will carry 114.

A 4-year-old filly, Winendynme was recently purchased privately by Paul Reddam and turned over to trainer Doug O'Neill. The Beverly Hills will mark her first start for them.

Osidy, the winner of the Will Rogers Stakes on May 28, is the top contender for Sunday's $150,000 Cinema Breeders' Cup Handicap for 3-year-olds at 1 1/8 miles on turf.

Trained by Richard Mandella for B. Wayne Hughes, Osidy was considered for the Kent Breeders' Cup Stakes at Delaware Park on Saturday until the decision was reached to stay closer to home. "I don't want to go running around with him yet," Mandella said.

Osidy and Willow O Wisp, second in the Will Rogers, will be starting highweights at 119 pounds. Legal Precedent, who will be making his stakes debut, has been assigned 115 pounds.

Chinese Dragon, the 122-pound topweight, will not start after suffering a splint bone injury, trainer Bob Hess Jr. said.

American Oaks hopefuls from all over

Invitations for the $750,000 American Oaks on July 3 were released Sunday, with stakes winners from California, Europe, Japan, and New York represented among the 14 invited.

The Grade 1 American Oaks is one of two $750,000 races at the meeting and is run at 1 1/4 miles on turf for 3-year-old fillies.

The list of invitations is led by the unbeaten Melhor Ainda, a three-time stakes winner who won the Grade 3 Sands Point Handicap at Belmont Park on June 5. Melhor Ainda is based in New York and will be sent to California a few days before the race, Frankel said.

The other fillies invited are Cesario, Grat, Isla Cozzene, Karen's Caper, Laurafina, Louvain, Luas Line, Memorette, Silk and Scarlet, Silver Cup, Splendid Blended, Thatswhatimean, and Three Degrees.

Six of those fillies are based in California, a group led by Three Degrees, the winner of the Honeymoon Breeders' Cup Handicap here on June 5.

Three fillies are stakes winners from Europe - Karen's Caper, Silk and Scarlet, and Silver Cup. Cesario won the $1.7 million Japanese Oaks at Tokyo Racecourse on May 22.

In 2004, the locally trained Ticker Tape upset an international field that included the Japanese invader Dance in the Mood.

The list of probable starters is almost certain to change before race day as some fillies are withdrawn from consideration.

What a Song triumphs in debut

What a Song, who topped the Barretts March 2-year-olds in training sale at $1.9 million this year, scored an easy win in his career debut Saturday.

Trained by Bob Baffert for Bob and Beverly Lewis, What a Song stalked Bengal Lore to the turn, took the lead in the stretch, and was hand-ridden to the finish by jockey Victor Espinoza.

What a Song ran 5 1/2 furlongs in 1:03.84, finishing 3 1/2 lengths in front of Stevie Wonderboy.

By Songandaprayer, What a Song may return in the $100,000 Hollywood Juvenile Championship at six furlongs on July 16.

"He's a real athlete," Baffert said.

Three not enough to fill Haggin

Sunday was supposed to feature the $75,000 Haggin Stakes for 2-year-olds, a prep to the Juvenile Championship, but the Haggin failed to fill on Friday, when it only drew three entries. Those three horses - Case Study, Corazondelcampeon, and Wild Uncle Kurt - may not start in the Juvenile Championship.

Case Study and Wild Uncle Kurt are California-breds who may run in the $125,000 Graduation Stakes for statebreds at Del Mar on July 27. The race is worth more than the Juvenile Championship and will not include Corazondelcampeon, a David LaCroix-trained horse who would have been favored in the Haggin.

The missed start stung Scott Merrell, who owns Corazondelcampeon.

"He was 100 percent ready," Merrell said. "Sometimes things work out for the better. We're in a phase when he's growing really rapidly. Maybe the delay will help him."

Corazondelcampeon could make his next start in the Juvenile Championship or at Del Mar or Saratoga, Merrell said.