05/25/2007 11:00PM

Kip Deville faces strong group in Shoemaker

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INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Chip Dutrow could not make up his mind.

Asked on Saturday which of Kip Deville's stakes wins this year impressed him the most - the Grade 1 Frank Kilroe Mile at Santa Anita in March or the Grade 2 Maker's Mark Mile at Keeneland in April - Dutrow, the assistant trainer to his brother Rick, thought he had an answer.

"The last race at Keeneland was, ah, I don't know," Dutrow said, changing his mind. "The one at Santa Anita was a thriller."

It probably does not matter which race Dutrow preferred. He may have a new answer by sunset Monday, after Kip Deville starts in the $398,200 Shoemaker Breeders' Cup Mile at Hollywood Park.

The winner of three consecutive graded stakes over a mile on turf, the 4-year-old Kip Deville has risen to the top of the American turf mile division in recent months. His position would be further solidified with a victory in a strong field in the Grade 1 Shoemaker.

The race has drawn a field of 10 that includes Becrux, the winner of the Grade 1 Woodbine Mile last September; Chinese Dragon, who won the San Francisco Mile last month; Right Special, a multiple stakes winner from Brazil; and The Tin Man, who won four graded stakes last year, including the Arlington Million.

The other five starters are not exactly wasting time. Charmo won the 2006 San Francisco Mile and was second in the 2006 Shoemaker. Willow O Wisp has won four graded stakes. Get Funky won the Del Mar Derby last year, Vega's Lord finished a nose behind Chinese Dragon in the San Francisco Mile, and Fast and Furious was third in the 2005 Shoemaker.

For Kip Deville to extend his winning streak, he must have a clean trip. In the Kilroe and Maker's Mark, his only two starts this year, Kip Deville raced wide on the turn and put in a sustained effort to win by a neck. In the Maker's Mark, he beat the highly rated Showing Up, who has since been sidelined with a ligament injury.

Kip Deville was 9-2 in the Maker's Mark. A price of about 9-5 is likely in the Shoemaker.

"We've got a little more pressure this time being the favorite," Chip Dutrow said. "But he's good. We're ready."

Kip Deville typically races just behind the leaders and should have ample pace to follow in the Shoemaker. Willow O Wisp and Get Funky have speed, while The Tin Man prefers to race near the front. The Shoemaker will be The Tin Man's first start since winning the Grade 1 Clement Hirsch Turf Championship last September.

Get Funky was fourth in the Inglewood Handicap here on April 28 after racing in second place for the first six furlongs. Trainer John Sadler said that tactic was a mistake, and that Get Funky's speed is an asset.

"We thought we'd grabbed him too much, so we'll probably employ a free-running style," Sadler said. "I'm worried about a pace duel."

The Shoemaker is Chinese Dragon's second start since returning from a year's layoff caused by injury. In the San Francisco Mile, he rallied from last in a five-horse field to catch Vega's Lord, who ran the best race of his career.

Chinese Dragon is in pursuit of his first Grade 1 stakes win and the sixth stakes win of his career. During the 2006 Santa Anita meeting, he was third, beaten by a head, in the Kilroe Mile and second in the Grade 2 Arcadia Handicap. Those races, trainer Bob Hess Jr. said, were more impressive than his recent win in the San Francisco Mile.

"He went in at a B-plus and he ran a B-plus," Hess said of Chinese Dragon's recent win. "I know off a year layoff people think he'll bounce, but it won't happen. He was way too fit. If he's good enough, he'll be right there."