06/04/2001 12:00AM

Key factors give edge to Elaborate


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - A surplus in class and a lack of current form distinguishes Wednesday's $75,000 Ack Ack Stakes at Hollywood Park, where graded stakes winners Early Pioneer and Big Ten return from extended layoffs against razor-sharp Elaborate.

Beyond inactivity, Hollywood Gold Cup winner Early Pioneer and Californian winner Big Ten are further compromised by distance. At 7 1/2 furlongs, the one-turn Ack Ack falls somewhere between a sprint and a route, and favors Elaborate, a top-class sprinter who embodies every quality his rivals lack, not the least of which is recency.

Elaborate crushed softer May 13, and came out looking for a better fight. He will get it - seven of the eight Ack Ack entrants are stakes winners. Owned by Trudy McCaffery and John Toffan, Elaborate won the seven-furlong Triple Bend last year, and 6 of 16 overall. He enters the Wednesday feature with a current-condition benefit.

"I know it's a tough field," trainer Paco Gonzalez said. "Early Pioneer and Big Ten are nice horses. But [Elaborate] came out of his last race very good, he's going to run big." The Ack Ack will link Elaborate to the Triple Bend on July 1. Meanwhile, his main rivals are returning from extended layoffs.

A 24-1 upset winner in the Hollywood Gold Cup last July, Early Pioneer strained tendon sheaths in both front legs while finishing third in a Turfway Park stakes in September. His veterinarian recommended two months off; he received five.

Early Pioneer has earned more than $1.1 million, most of it for trainer Vladimir Cerin and owners David and Holly Wilson, who claimed the gelding for $62,500 in 1998. The issue Wednesday is not class; Cerin's caution regards condition. "I'm not sure if he's fit enough, but it doesn't really matter. I just need to get a race into him and and get him going again."

Depending on his comeback and subsequent training, Early Pioneer may try for another Gold Cup upset July 1. Cerin's other Ack Ack starter, Saint Wynn, is using the race as a prep for the Grade 2 Bel Air on July 7. Saint Wynn has not started since bleeding in a stakes in December.

Big Ten faces a similar predicament. Off since October and returning from a chipped ankle, the 6-year-old Big Ten needs a prep. Trainer Richard Mandella will take what he can get. "I would expect him to be better at a mile and a sixteenth, or a mile and an eighth. We're just trying to get him started; get a race into him and see where we're at."