06/14/2007 12:00AM

King Palm sheds bridesmaid tag

Alex Evers/Horsephotos
Sinister Minister won the 2006 Blue Grass Stakes but has been the beaten favorite in each of his last three starts. He will try again Friday night.

INGLEWOOD, Calif. - For more than a year, King Palm was known as the maiden that always seemed to finish second. In his first 16 starts, he was second 11 times. Hey, at least bettors knew which horse to put at the bottom of an exacta.

Now, King Palm has become the horse that belongs at the top of the exacta. He finally beat maidens on March 22 and won an allowance race here on April 27. Friday evening, in a 1 1/8-mile optional claimer at Hollywood Park, he will try for his third consecutive win.

"I hope that the winning isn't over yet," trainer Vladimir Cerin said.

Owned by the Maloof brothers, the family that owns the NBA's Sacramento Kings and the popular Palms hotel in Las Vegas, King Palm is one of seven entrants in Friday's race.

"Is he good enough to win at the next level?" Cerin said. "We'll find out. That was a lot of seconds, but I'm not complaining."

Cerin is at a loss to explain the turnaround in King Palm's form. In several of his losses in 2006, King Palm seemed on the verge of winning, but was beaten.

"He ran into horses that ran huge races on that day," Cerin said. "I always thought he could run. Everyone said, 'Drop him. Drop him.' "

Cerin never dropped King Palm out of maiden special weight races. Along the way, the decision was made not to geld the 6-year-old.

"He won't change by being cut at the age of 6," Cerin said. "When you get to a certain point, it's too late."

On April 27, King Palm won an allowance race at 1 1/16 miles by stalking the pace and fighting for the lead through the stretch. He won by a nose over Heated Rebel. A similar trip could work in his favor on Friday.

Sinister Minister, the winner of the Grade 1 Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland in 2006, may take his customary position at the front, but could be joined by Courtly Jazz and Go Go Dancer.

Sinister Minister is hard to trust. He has lost his last three starts, going favored in each. On May 24, he led by 1 1/2 lengths at the eighth pole and finished two lengths behind race winner Big Booster.

Courtly Jazz, the winner of the Ralph Hinds Pomona Invitational in September 2005, is entered to be claimed for $62,500. Go Go Dancer led throughout an allowance race at 1 1/8 miles here on May 19.