01/03/2002 12:00AM

Kokopelli won't be walkover

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PHOENIX - As he read down the entries for Saturday's $30,000 Kokopelli Handicap, trainer Kevin Lewis had to like what he saw. It seemed he had a stranglehold on the Kokopelli, a one-mile turf race for 4-year-olds and up, with his strong entry of Eagleton and Bristolville.

But when he got to the final horse in the field of nine the smile probably left his face. His entry still figures to be favored, but Come Back Ronnie, trained by Nick Canani, ships in from California and brings some serious power of his own. That may be bad news for Lewis, but the presence of Come Back Ronnie adds depth and intrigue to the Kokopelli.

While both halves of the Lewis entry look strong and both carry co-highweight of 120 pounds, a slight edge probably goes to Bristolville. A 6-year-old, Bristolville comes off a good third in the $75,000 Paradise Mile on this course and at this distance on Dec. 15. While Bristolville ran possibly the best race of his life, he had the misfortune of hooking Fighting Falcon and King Slayer, who are graded stakes-caliber on the Southern California circuit. Despite a great effort, Bristolville's rally was only good enough for show under Kelly Bridges.

That was the first loss in four tries on this course for Bristolville, and without runners like Fighting Falcon and King Slayer in the Kokopelli, he will be imposing. Kelly Bridges again rides.

Eagleton isn't just window dressing. The other half of the Lewis-trained entry was fourth in the Paradise Mile, beaten just over three lengths by Bristolville. He had previously won an optional claimer on the main track going a mile, and while winless in three starts on this turf can certainly handle it. He's Grade 3 stakes placed (Golden Gate Handicap) so quality is there. Seth Martinez rides.

Come Back Ronnie, a 7-year-old, may not have the credentials of Fighting Falcon or King Slayer, but he is one tough customer. He won the John Henry at The Meadowlands in October, then shipped to Southern California and beat such tough nuts as Quianlong and Foggy Day. Last time out he shipped to Golden Gate and finished third at 7-5 in a strong optional claimer. He was too far back early and while able to close well could not make up the needed ground. If he can keep from falling too far out of it, and can handle a new, unfamiliar course he can be awfully scary. Glen Corbett rides.

Another horse of interest is local legend G Malleah. An 11-year-old, he isn't as imposing as he once was, but he has run well on this course and at this distance, and with his speed he still has to be caught.

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