10/25/2004 11:00PM

Kela's team comes in smokin'

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GRAND PRAIRIE, Texas - Kela comes into the $1 million Breeders' Cup Sprint for one of the hottest barns in racing. His trainer, Mike Mitchell, leads the standings at the Oak Tree meet at Santa Anita, where he has won with 48 percent of his starters through Tuesday.

Mitchell has won titles in Southern California before, but this year is the best of his career. His stable earnings of $3.4 million this year are a career-best for his 40-horse barn, and he scored the first Grade 1 win of his career when Kela won the Bing Crosby Breeders' Cup at Del Mar in July. A few months later, Mitchell won the Grade 1 Clement Hirsch with Star Over the Bay.

"Now we're going to the Breeders' Cup with both of them, and I really feel like they belong," said Mitchell, 56. "We're not shooting for the stars here."

Kela will be one of the top choices in the Sprint. Kela, who will be ridden by Jerry Bailey, has stepped up his game in his last two starts. He closed from last to win the Bing Crosby by 1 1/4 lengths, earning a Beyer Speed Figure of 112, then returned to capture the Grade 2 Pat O'Brien Breeders' Cup Handicap by 4 1/2 lengths over Pico Central, earning a career-best Beyer Figure of 116.

A combination of factors has brought Kela to this point, but one of the most interesting is an equipment change Mitchell made over the summer with Kela.

"We dabbled around with the blinkers," said Mitchell. "A more severe blinker cup was employed, Mitchell said, "to keep his mind on business."

Recently, Kela has employed a different running style, and Mitchell said Kela seems to enjoy dropping back and making one run.

Kela has also been helped by the three-month vacation he was given after being purchased privately by Jay Manoogian last October. Kela returned to the races in March and a month later shipped to the Breeders' Cup host site, Lone Star Park, where he won the Grade 3, $300,000 Texas Mile. At the time, it was a career-best win for Kela, who began racing in 2001 and in his second start won his maiden over the eventual Breeders' Cup Sprint winner, Orientate. For his effort in the Texas Mile, he earned a Beyer Figure of 114.

"He's really good right now," said Mitchell. "Even when he won in Texas, he's much stronger now to me. He's really just doing great."

Kela was to ship to Texas on Tuesday night.

* Bwana Charlie worked four furlongs in 47 seconds at Lone Star on Tuesday, the second fastest work at the distance. He has been based at Lone Star since the start of the fall Breeders' Cup meet on Oct. 1. Bwana Charlie has raced once here, finishing second in the $100,000 Alysheba Breeders' Cup, and his trainer, Steve Asmussen, said it is an advantage to have had a start over this track.