10/21/2003 11:00PM

King Robyn drives for five


ARCADIA, Calif. - King Robyn was little more than an ex-claimer from Calder when he finished second in the Grade 3 Baldwin Stakes at Santa Anita last February. He lost to stablemate Buddy Gil, who went on to win the San Felipe Stakes and Santa Anita Derby, and finish sixth in the Kentucky Derby.

Eight months later, Buddy Gil is preparing for a comeback following an injury, and King Robyn has found a niche as a sprinter, scoring wins in four stakes.

King Robyn will go for his fifth stakes win of 2003 on Friday in the $100,000 Morvich Handicap over about 6 1/2 furlongs on the hillside turf course at Santa Anita.

To trainer Jeff Mullins, King Robyn's development since the Baldwin Stakes has been a pleasant surprise.

"I wasn't sure what to think at that point," Mullins said. "We didn't realize how good Buddy Gil would get. It was hard to draw any conclusions until later."

King Robyn faces older horses for the second time in the Morvich, which drew nine runners. At Del Mar in August, King Robyn won the five-furlong Green Flash Handicap against older horses.

"He's just a warrior," Mullins said of King Robyn. "He loves to run, but he has to have a firm racetrack."

Mullins also starts Thunder Bullet, who is unbeaten in four starts in allowance races and high-priced claimers on the hillside this year.

King Robyn races near the lead but does not have to be in front, a point that will be vital in the Morvich. Apache Wings, who set the pace in the Oak Tree Breeders' Cup Mile on Oct. 5 before fading to finish eighth, will be close to the front, as will Rock Opera, a stakes winner in 2002 who has not started since finishing fourth in the Hollywood Derby last December.

Bobby Frankel starts War Zone, who has already shown a liking for this course. In his U.S. debut last March, War Zone won an allowance race on the hillside turf course in a small field.

At Belmont Park in early July, War Zone won the Grade 3 Poker Handicap over a mile on turf.