04/28/2004 11:00PM

Just Wonder steps it up


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Just Wonder finished second in the El Cielo Handicap on the hillside course at Santa Anita on March 21 in his first start of 2004. To trainer Laura de Seroux, it was an ideal comeback to begin a campaign that could include starts in the top races for turf milers.

Saturday, returns in the $100,000 Inglewood Handicap at Hollywood Park, a race that could lead to a start in the $350,000 Shoemaker Breeders' Cup Mile on May 31.

"He's more than ready," de Seroux said. "I love using that hill. I told everyone that he'd come from the clouds. He nearly got it done. This horse has a tremendous turn of foot."

The Inglewood Handicap is run at 1 1/16 miles on turf. Last year, Just Wonder won the 1 1/16-mile Ascot Handicap at Bay Meadows in May and the Grade 3 Cinema Breeders' Cup Handicap at 1 1/8 miles here in late June.

In his final start of 2003, Just Wonder finished 10th as the favorite in the Grade 1 Secretariat Stakes at Arlington Park on Aug. 16. Just Wonder was then given a four-month break at de Seroux's base at the San Luis Rey Downs training center in northern San Diego County.

"He's very sound compared with the way he finished last year," de Seroux said.

The Inglewood is not an easy race. The field will include Irish Warrior, who has won the Del Mar Handicap and Turf Paradise Breeders' Cup Handicap in the past year, and Leroidesanimaux, who has won two consecutive allowance races for trainer Bobby Frankel.

Other top candidates include , the winner of the Grade 2 Oak Tree Breeders' Cup Mile on Oct. 5, and Tronare, the winner of the Golden Gate Breeders' Cup Handicap in March.

Designed for Luck is winless in two starts this year at Santa Anita, finishing seventh in the Thunder Road Handicap and fifth in the Frank Kilroe Mile in March.

The Inglewood Handicap marks the first time that Patrick Valenzuela will have ridden Designed for Luck since a seventh-place finish in the Breeders' Cup Mile on Oct. 25.

Trainer Vladimir Cerin was not discouraged by Designed for Luck's loss in the Kilroe, in which the 7-year-old led in the stretch before finishing 3 1/4 lengths behind Sweet Return.

"He needs to be close to the pace and inside," Cerin said. "A really good horse beat him last time."