11/30/2001 12:00AM

Let's say it together: Beaumes de Venise

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PHOENIX - Admittedly, Sunday's Grade 3 Vernon O. Underwood at Hollywood would have more luster if Kona Gold, Swept Overboard, Squirtle Squirt, or Early Flyer were in it, but without them the race has gotten depth. As things stand now, the gap from top to bottom in quality is narrow, creating the handicapping potential of a nice hit and a nice number.

Many of the faces are familiar. Men's Exclusive used to be one of the top sprinters. He's on in years, but he was still good enough to win this race last year and is well known for his love of this track.

Forest Camp was once thought to be Derby timber. That didn't quite work out, but he has turned into a nice sprinter for Eduardo Inda. But does he have any kind of edge here, at a short price?

Dick Mandella may send a pair - Lake William and/or Morocco. Lake William has at times hinted at big ability, but comes off a long layoff after a setback. Morocco has found his calling as a late-running sprinter. He looked great winning down the hill on turf at Santa Anita and was all set to try El Cielo and Speak in Passing in the Morvich, but got sick. What effects linger from that illness, and is he as good on dirt?

So this may be the opportunity for a new name ready to peak. A horse who may fit the bill is Beaumes de Venise.

Because of injuries, at age 5 he has made just eight starts, but has won five races. The Underwood, run over six furlongs, will be his graded stakes debut.

Beaumes de Venise has made two starts this year, winning an allowance race at Del Mar on Aug. 9 and finishing fourth as a heavy favorite in the Aprisa Handicap at Fairplex Park on Sept. 12.

"I thought I was being smart, but he didn't like the turns," trainer Craig Dollase said of Beaumes de Venise's race in the Aprisa. "I've freshened him well since then."

Rain wouldn't hurt him. Back in March 2000 Beaumes de Venise caught a sloppy track at Santa Anita but was a romping winner. There is a distinct prospect for rain Sunday. It was in this same race, back in 1997 with Tower Full over an off track, where Dollase notched his first stakes win.

Another thing in his favor is his terrific ability to fire off a layoff. Dollase has been tremendous in this regard, and the horse has proven it time and again. Now he must prove it at a higher level.

Sure, you have to use grizzled veteran Men's Exclusive, the talented Forest Camp and Morocco and Lake William underneath in exotics. But Beaumes de Venise is the key.

More stars for Frankel

By the time you read this Bobby Frankel may well have captured another Grade 1 event - he had three big shots at Saturday's Grade Hollywood Turf Cup. But although Aptitude has gone to the farm, and Timboroa and Lido Palace didn't do much in Japan, there are more troops coming in. These aren't foot soldiers, either - this is major Euro power.

The flagbearer may be Beat Hollow. Favored in last year's English Derby, he was a good third. He also won the Group 1 Grand Prix de Paris and was a force in a class that included Sinndar, Giant's Causeway, Kalanisi, Egyptband, Hightori, Sakhee, Holding Court, Observatory, and Best of the Bests. A hind joint injury knocked him out of action for some time, but if he comes back close to the same horse he'll take some beating, particularly in a division which may be lacking for strength, unless Bienamado can come back at full speed, and there's no guarantee of that. Expect Beat Hollow to show up for the major distance turf races.

Shibboleth isn't exactly a second-stringer. He has the makings of a top-class miler and like Beat Hollow suffered an injury last year (he had surgery to remove ankle chip in a hind leg). He was beaten just over a length by Giant's Causeway in the Group 1 St. James's Palace, and he beat Observatory by over a length in a listed race.

Either or both could come along midway or late in the Santa Anita meet, giving Frankel more weapons.