04/25/2007 11:00PM

Layoffs, lack of pace muddle Mile

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SAN MATEO, Calif. - Finding the winner of a horse race is sometimes like putting together pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, and Saturday's Grade 2, $300,000 San Francisco Mile is a puzzle with 1,000 pieces.

Six runners were entered in

northern California's only Grade 2 race, but Sound Breeze, who may have provided the pace piece of the puzzle, was cross-entered in Saturday's Inglewood at Hollywood Park, where trainer Bobby Frankel intends to run him.

Sound Breeze's defection leaves the San Francisco Mile devoid of early speed.

Neil Drysdale will send out both Vega's Lord and Becrux following five-month layoffs.

"It's not the optimum place to be, but he's won on the lead," Drysdale said of Becrux.

Vega's Lord won on the lead in his native Germany, and stalked the pace before tiring in his U.S. debut in the Hollywood Derby before getting time off.

Drysdale said: "Obviously, it's their first race of the year. Either one could come up a little short."

Both Vega's Lord and Becrux were given time off because of hard campaigns rather than injury, Drysdale said.

Defending champion Charmo sat relatively close to the pace when second to Aragorn in the Shoemaker last May. He then went to the sidelines for eight months and has run twice this year.

"He's going to be running close to the pace," trainer Julio Canani said. "His race in the Shoemaker wasn't bad."

Chinese Dragon, who has been idle for a year, is the only horse that probably isn't be a candidate to get the lead.

"This horse I love dearly," trainer Bob Hess Jr. said, "but he's lazy, and he'd have to be pushed. This horse really only runs a quarter-mile, he just lopes along."

Condition could be another big piece of the puzzle.

Charmo has recency over his primary rivals, and even he hasn't run in seven weeks. He finished eighth and seventh in his two starts this year.

Canani said the 6-year-old Charmo probably needed both races after coming back from a minor ankle injury.

"He was a little heavy, and maybe I didn't train him hard enough," he said. "My horse is training good now. I really turned the screws on him."

Charmo worked a bullet six furlongs on turf in 1:12 on April 15.

Hess said that Chinese Dragon was off because of ankle problems, but that he didn't have surgery. He tried to return Chinese Dragon to training last summer before realizing the

5-year-old horse needed more time off.

Although he expects Chinese Dragon to contend, Hess said: "His worst race of the year will be his first race back. This is a lazy, lazy horse. I don't know how fit he is."

Both Charmo and Chinese Dragon have won over the local turf course, and Chinese Dragon defeated Becrux in their two previous meetings.

Becrux was gelded before Del Mar last summer and then won the Wickerr Handicap and the $1 million Woodbine Mile.

The Fourteenth has been running in claimers at Bay Meadows and seems overmatched.

* Two interesting allowance races surround the San Francisco Mile, with Cry Me No River trying to repeat over Con Juan and Agrentinisima trying to outrun Classy Jo, who has won two straight.