05/25/2001 11:00PM

Irish Prize primed for Shoemaker

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INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Throughout the spring, Irish Prize has been campaigned with Monday's $350,000 Shoemaker Breeders' Cup Mile at Hollywood Park as a goal.

Following a fourth in the San Francisco Mile at Bay Meadows on April 28, his first start since winning the San Gabriel Handicap at Santa Anita in January, Irish Prize won the Grade 3 Fastness Handicap over this course May 13.

The victory was visually impressive. In a slowly run race over 1 1/8 miles, Irish Prize closed from fourth to win by a neck. The late rally showcased his turn of foot, which could be vital in the Shoemaker.

"I hope he bounces back well," said trainer Neil Drysdale. "He acts like he has."

Monday's Shoemaker Mile lacks a standout turf miler such as Silic, Fastness, or Labeeb - all winners of the Shoemaker in recent years - or Ladies Din, who twice finished second to Silic.

"I think it's wide open," Drysdale said. "There aren't any Ladies Dins in the field."

Irish Prize will be coupled with Touch of the Blues, who was third in the San Simeon Handicap at Santa Anita last month.

Native Desert, the California-bred, has the highest earnings of the entrants - $1.33 million - but is in the midst of a seven-race losing streak.

The biggest threat to Irish Prize is a group of recent stakes winners - Brahms (2000 Hollywood Derby), Fateful Dream (2001 Inglewood Handicap), and Spinelessjellyfish (2001 Khaled Stakes), all of whom are stalkers.

Last fall, Brahms finished second in the Hollywood Derby, but was promoted to first after the winner, Designed for Luck, was disqualified for interference. Walden said the performance was a factor in the return to the West Coast.

"It was part of the consideration," Walden said. "I thought he ran a winning race."

Brahms is winless in two starts this year, including a troubled third in the Grade 1 Woodford Reserve Stakes at Churchill Downs on May 5. He was wide on the final turn and was checked in late stretch, losing by 1 1/2 lengths to White Heart, who carried seven pounds fewer than Brahms.

"I wasn't as discouraged as the race looked on paper," Walden said. "I'm happy to be at equal weights.

"I think he might be better at a mile. He might have hung a little in the last sixteenth, but I think it was the weight that got to him the other day. I think the mile suits him well."