09/07/2005 11:00PM

Kristine's King a big shot for Mullins


POMONA, Calif. - Jeff Mullins always looks forward to September, when he returns to the Los Angeles County Fair race meet at Fairplex Park.

"I love it here," Mullins said. "Fairplex is the reason I'm here in California."

Previously based in Arizona, Mullins secured a foothold in California at Fairplex in the late-1990's, relocated his operation to California in 2001, and has built one of the circuit's top stables. It started at Fairplex, where Mullins has won 48 races, 13th among trainers on the all-time list. And though Mullins led the Del Mar meet that ended Wednesday, he still has bullets to fire.

"We saved a few for here; we've got some fresh horses," Mullins said.

Among them are Swiss Lad, who is entered in the Foothill Stakes Friday; King Robyn, who is gearing for a comeback; and Grade 2-placed Acceleration, who goes in the Barretts Debutante Sept. 17. And on Saturday, in the $60,000 Phil D. Shepherd Stakes, Mullins sends out Kristine's King.

A gray front-runner who has not raced since February, Kristine's King faces nine rivals in the Shepherd, including horse-for-course Sigfreto. A late-runner trained by Doug O'Neill, Sigfreto won the Pomona Derby in 2001, the Shepherd in 2002, and a starter allowance in 2004.

Whether he wins or not, is the key starter in the Shepherd because of his style. Kristine's King does it all out front, a style that has led to 6 wins from 33 starts. But he also has not raced since sustaining a minor injury while running third in a Feb. 11 allowance at Santa Anita, which was won by Borrego.

Seven months later, there are no worries. "We turned him out, and he's come back great," Mullins said.

Kristine's King finished third in the Ralph Hinds Pomona Invitational Handicap last fall, but probably will skip that race this year.

"That would be asking a little too much," Mullins said.

Martin Pedroza rides Kristine's King, who is the only natural front-runner in the Shepherd. If he clears without pressure, he could be gone. Otherwise, a number of entrants, including Sigfreto, are qualified to win. Intelligent Male is a presser from Lousiana Downs making his first start in California. Paraquedista is an improving Brazilian up in class off a Del Mar one-other-than allowance.

David Flores, the former king of Pomona with riding titles in six straight years starting in 1989, plans to ride the whole meet. The second-leading all-time Fairplex rider behind Pedroza, Flores rides Melanyhasthepapers in the Shepherd. Other entrants include R. Baggio, Tiz Only Money, Saint Buddy, Bonus Pack, and Easy Million.