06/10/2005 12:00AM

Irvin bemoans one that got away


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Robert Irvin admits that watching Cee's Irish excel in stakes this year has sometimes been a bittersweet experience.

Last fall, facing a tax bill, Irvin sold Cee's Irish privately to Merv Griffin. At the time, Cee's Irish was a promising 2-year-old maiden filly who had just finished a close second in a one-mile race at Santa Anita.

Since then, Cee's Irish has won 4 of 8 starts, including three stakes. She has earned $375,480. Irvin and his wife, Betty, have been rewarded with breeder awards, but owning Cee's Irish would have been more of a thrill.

"I didn't want to sell the filly," he said. "My tax situation was awful."

Sunday, Cee's Irish will try for her first graded stakes win in the Grade 2, $175,000 Hollywood Breeders' Cup Oaks at Hollywood Park.

There are three California-bred fillies in the Hollywood Breeders' Cup Oaks. Cee's Irish is joined by Leave Me Alone, the winner of the Melair Stakes at Hollywood Park April 24, and Memorette, who finished fifth in the Kentucky Oaks last month at Churchill Downs.

Leave Me Alone is by Bold Badgett. Memorette, who won the California Breeders' Champion Stakes at Santa Anita last December, is by Memo.

For the Irvins, a win by Cee's Irish would be a consolation of sorts. They still own Cee's Irish's dam, the stakes winner Zandalusia.

"We're hopeful," Irvin said of Cee's Irish's chances of winning. "That would be great if she did."

A win Sunday would also greatly enhance the value of Zandalusia, who has turned out to be a bargain. The Irvins bought Zandalusia for $14,000 at the 2001 Barretts January breeding sale from Ron Gomez's dispersal. At the time, Zandalusia was in foal to Bonus Money.

Robert Irvin became interested in Zandalusia as a broodmare because she is by Bold Ruckus.

"I thought Bold Ruckus was a sire that you didn't have access to," he said. "I thought she would go well to Cee's Tizzy."

Zandalusia was bred to Cee's Tizzy in 2001, and the resulting foal was Cee's Irish.

The Irvins breed under the name C-Punch Ranch. Their racing stock is trained by Ray Bell in Southern California, and they own a ranch in Lovelock, Nev.

Zandalusia, who won 4 of 37 starts and $91,256, is boarded in Nevada for part of the year. She won a stakes at 1 1/16 miles at Assiniboia Downs.

Since producing Cee's Irish, Zandalusia has been bred twice to Rainbow Blues, a stallion owned by the Irvins. Rainbow Blues stands at Applebite Farms in French Camp, Calif.

Rainbow Blues spends the late summer and fall in Nevada and is sent back to California in late winter, before the start of the breeding season.

"We don't breed him in Nevada. We just board him there," Robert Irvin said. "It's cheaper."

Rainbow Blues is the sire of a yearling colt by Zandalusia that Robert Irvin is hopeful will be accepted for the Barretts October yearling sale.

Zandalusia, 12, has a weanling filly by Rainbow Blues, but was not bred this year, Robert Irvin said.

"She was so late," he said of Zandalusia's foaling date. "I may go back to Cee's Tizzy."

After all, Cee's Irish has already proven that the mating can be successful.

"We're delighted that the filly has done well," Robert Irvin said of Cee's Irish. "I think it worked out well for everybody."

* A supplemental entry stage for the Barretts summer sale in Pomona on June 28 closes Friday.

The sale features horses of racing age and 2-year-olds in training. A training preview of the juveniles is scheduled for June 27 on the Fairplex Park track at the Los Angeles County Fair.