02/25/2005 12:00AM

At least one horse may benefit from weather


PHOENIX - Even if Southern California doesn't get another drop of rain between now and next Saturday's Santa Anita Handicap, the rain will have a huge effect on the race, and trainer Bobby Frankel told you why.

"The horses coming in from Florida can't lose," Frankel said in Thursday's Daily Racing Form, referring to Saint Liam, who is scheduled to ship in for the Big Cap. "They've got an edge. They've been able to train. Saint Liam is the best horse, and he's got a bigger edge on conditioning. I haven't been able to gallop my horses for six or seven days."

Frankel may be spot-on. Saint Liam is expected to invade as likely the best handicap horse in the country, save Horse of the Year Ghostzapper. Rock Hard Ten, Imperialism, and Congrats are good, but each still has to prove he can perform on the same level as Saint Liam. And now they have to try and do it after rains have wreaked havoc on training regimens out West.

Richard Mandella was able to send out Rock Hard Ten and Congrats for a work earlier last week, but along with most of the horses stabled in Southern California they had been reduced to galloping and jogging in recent days because of wet weather. The ensuing sloppy tracks had concerned Mandella.

"I've been worried for a week," he said. "The track is pretty good. They won't need much now. This will carry them quite a few days."

You could almost feel the sigh of relief coming from Mandella, but any missed time, particularly when preparing to go 10 furlongs against the second-best horse in the country, is going to keep you up nights.

One horse that might not be as negatively affected is Imperialism, the deep closer who gave Rock Hard Ten fits in the San Fernando, when his rally came up just a nostril short. Tactically, the 1 1/4-mile Big Cap should play well for Imperialism; he seems to want this distance, will keep running, and the presence of Saint Liam, Truly a Judge, Grand Reward, and the mare Island Fashion should ensure a brisk pace. That's all good for Imperialism's trainer, Kristin Mulhall.

The other thing Mulhall has going for her is Imperialism's constitution. Missed training time might not be a big hindrance for him.

"We train him light all the time anyway," said Mulhall. "We basically jogged him into the Strub. It depends on the horse as to how much training it needs, but a horse like Imperialism holds his conditioning. He stays pretty fit. The rain actually could help us, because we can train light for a while. The mile and a quarter shouldn't be any problem. It looks like the more ground the better for him as long as he's allowed to drop way out of it and make one big run. You can't mess with that. He likes this track and he doesn't care if it's muddy or good."

My early Santa Anita Handicap lean is: Saint Liam, Imperialism, and Rock Hard Ten.

Singletary eyes 2005 debut in Kilroe Mile

Rain also might play a key role in Saturday's Kilroe Mile on the turf. Defending Breeders' Cup Mile champ Singletary is expected to make his 2005 debut there, and trainer Don Chatlos sounded guardedly optimistic.

"I wouldn't say he's 100 percent ready with the way things are going," Chatlos said. "I've been lucky."He hasn't missed too many days. . . I'm not as backed up as some guys."

Despite Singletary's presence, Leroidesanimaux will be favored after five straight wins if he goes in the Kilroe, and that's a mighty big if. Leroidesanimaux's trainer, Frankel, isn't sure Leroidesanimaux will run because of the disruption to his training.

Even without any more rain, the turf course figures to have give in it. Singletary certainly was comfortable on non-firm turf at Lone Star Park in October, when he won the BC Mile, and has fired fresh before. But the presence of defending champ Sweet Return, upstart A to the Z (who gave Leroidesanimaux a huge scare in the Grade 1 Citation), and impressive recent allowance winner Laura's Lucky Boy mean that Singletary doesn't have much margin for error. Top-class distance horse Meteor Storm might also go in the Kilroe. He could certainly threaten on talent alone, but the race would more likely serve as a prep for the Grade 2 San Luis Rey on March 27.

I'd love to see the mare Musical Chimes come back in this race. She won the Grade 2 Oak Tree BC Mile over this course last fall before a good sixth-place finish with considerable trouble in the BC Mile. She would be my early selection here, but as things stand now she may go elsewhere.

Laura's Lucky Boy powered home in that allowance win on Feb. 5 after looking beaten on the turn. Laura's Lucky Boy has always hinted at big-time ability and may now be putting it all together. Without Leroidesanimaux and Musical Chimes in the gate, Laura's Lucky Boy may be ideally situated.

My Early Kilroe Mile lean is: Laura's Lucky Boy, Singletary, and A to the Z.

Of course, I've still got almost a week left to change my mind.