03/06/2003 1:00AM

Kruljac holds two aces for Gold Cup


PHOENIX - In Saturday's $100,000 Phoenix Gold Cup trainer Eric Kruljac is going to have trouble keeping a poker face considering the strong hand he holds.

Kruljac sends out the two horses to beat in the 48th running of the six-furlong Gold Cup at Turf Paradise. They are the sharp and consistent Grimm, who carries 119 pounds, and R. Baggio, a Southern California campaigner who carries 118. They are coupled in the wagering in the nine-horse field for the Gold Cup, one of three stakes on the card.

Grimm will be going for his fifth straight win. His most recent victory came in the $50,000 Coyote Handicap on Feb. 15. Prior to that, Grimm won the $35,000 Cactus Wren, an allowance race, and a maiden race.

"He's certainly earned the right to go for the gold," said Kruljac of Grimm, a 4-year-old son of Hansel.

Purchased for $15,000 out of the 2001 Arizona Thoroughbred Breeders' sale, Grimm has won $68,160.

"Actually I was in California at the time of the sale," said Kruljac. "Two fellow trainers - Lanny Sharp and Ira Schuman - described him to me over the phone. I told them to go as high as $15,000."

Grimm worked a bullet five furlongs here in 57.60 seconds Sunday, the fastest of 15 works. "He was just galloping," said Kruljac.

Kruljac said Grimm and R. Baggio should complement each other.

"Grimm likes to race near the lead," said Kruljac. "R. Baggio comes from out of the clouds. His win sprinting over the Santa Anita turf in January was a monster race."

R. Baggio is proven going long and short, but he may be most comfortable as a late-running sprinter.

Dave Patton rides Grimm and Kelly Bridges rides R. Baggio.

The speedy Giovannetti, who has been facing some of the best sprinters in both northern and Southern California, is the highweight at 120 pounds. Trained by Frank Monteleone, Giovannetti comes off a runner-up effort in Golden Gate's Ken Maddy Handicap, losing by a head to El Dorado Shooter, one of the quickest horses on the West Coast and arguably the top sprinter in northern California.

Giovannetti has won 6 of 10, and will be ridden by Danny Sorenson.

The Southern California shipper Smile N Wildcat is loaded with speed. He has won 2 of 5 and is trained by Doug O'Neill. Another Southern California shipper, Simony, is trained by Nick Canani. Local hopefuls include Expert, No Cal Bread, and Flying Supercon.

Also on the card is the $50,000 Cactus Flower Handicap, a six-furlong race for fillies and mares, which drew a field of seven. Top local sprinting mare Knoll Lake is the horse to beat and has been assigned high weight of 125 pounds on the strength of two stakes wins this year.

Trained by Kevin Lewis, Knoll Lake is coupled with Cove Point, who is quite capable in her own right. The pair must deal with the extremely fast Southern California shipper Maria's Mirage.

In the $35,000 Black Mountain Handicap for 3-year-olds and upward at 1 1/16 miles, Free Corona is the 122-pound highweight in a field of six.

Free Corona comes off a 4 1/4-length win in the Captain Billy Boogie at a mile here Feb. 16. The three horses who chased him, Milk Wood, Ceetoit, and Eagleton, are back for more. Also in the race is Southern California shipper Fly to the Lake.

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