12/29/2006 1:00AM

For King's Drama, a virtual sprint

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ARCADIA, Calif. - The veteran gelding King's Drama has raced in so many marathons the past three seasons that 1 1/8 miles in the Grade 2 San Gabriel Handicap is a mere sprint.

The "short" distance might be reason to consider King's Drama, the 121-pound highweight, vulnerable Sunday in the $150,000 San Gabriel at Santa Anita. Or not.

Distance "is not a problem," trainer Bobby Frankel said about King's Drama. "He was a miler when I got him [from Europe]. The only reason I stretched him out was money."

Purses are higher in longer races, and King's Drama has won nine races and more than $1 million from 29 starts.

Most of his races have been 1 1/4 miles and farther. When he returns from a six-month layoff Sunday, King's Drama is running "short" for the first time since summer 2005, and facing several racing-fit horses. As if it matters.

The truth is, the favorite will be tough to beat. A Grade 1 winner and the class of the field, King's Drama will be positioned behind pacesetter Railroad, and get first run against a modest group.

Hendrix finished second last out in a Grade 1; deep closer Southern Africa is a sharp dirt horse switching to turf; Capitano is unproven at the class; Don Incauto and Rhythm Mad are off form; and Porfido looms the upsetter.

David Flores rides King's Drama, surrendering the mount on Hendrix, who outran 25-1 odds last time and finished second in the Grade 1 Citation.

"He's been right there with the best," trainer Craig Dollase said.

Hendrix has won 5 of 23, and finished in the money in five graded stakes without a win. "He's overdue," Dollase said. Corey Nakatani will ride Hendrix.

Rhythm Mad has not raced since January, and needs a race. "He's not a very generous work horse," trainer Richard Mandella said. "I would not expect him to run his best."

In addition to King's Drama, Frankel also expects Chilean Group 1 winner Porfido to improve after three subpar races.

"I got caught stretching him out," Frankel said. "Maybe I was running him too far. I think a mile and eighth is up his alley. I'm looking for a big race from him."

Southern Africa returns to grass after a second in the Grade 3 Native Diver on dirt; Capitano is expected to improve after a third-place comeback against easier. Don Incauto, a Group 1 winner in Argentina, returns to his preferred grass surface.