06/26/2008 11:00PM

Looks like all Daytona in American


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - When your horse has won six graded stakes in the last nine months, it is not always easy to pick a favorite performance.

For trainer Dan Hendricks and the partnership that owns Daytona, there are two races that stick out - the Grade 1 Hollywood Derby last November and the Grade 1 Shoemaker Mile on May 26. The list could be subject to revision after Saturday's $250,000 American Handicap at Hollywood Park.

Daytona will be a strong favorite in the Grade 2 American, which does not carry the same prestige as the recent Grade 1 wins. But another victory moves him closer to the Breeders' Cup Mile at Santa Anita on Oct. 25.

"Everything is going right and falling into place," Hendricks said.

The American Handicap is run over 1 1/8 miles on turf, a distance that is exactly between the two milestone Daytona wins that Hendricks recalls vividly.

"I think physically the Shoemaker was one of his best, if not the best race," he said. "For us, my standpoint and the owner's standpoint, the Hollywood Derby was the best, winning that first Grade 1 and doing it at a mile and quarter. Before we didn't know if the Oak Tree Derby was a fluke."

The American has eight entrants, six of whom are stakes winners.

"Nice easy spot to come back in," cracked Ben Cecil, who trains Worldly.

A two-time stakes winner last year, Worldly has not started since finishing seventh in the Hollywood Derby last November. Worldly was sidelined after undergoing splint bone surgery.

"He's training well and I think he'll run well, but he'll need a race," Cecil said. "I'll be happy if he's in the first three. If he does better, I'll be delighted. I've got to a get race into him."

Daytona will set the pace. In his recent starts, he led throughout or dueled for the lead. He has carried his speed to wins in six of his last seven starts. The only loss was a third in the Grade 2 Mervin Muniz Jr. Handicap at Fair Grounds in March over a yielding turf course that Hendricks thinks Daytona did not really like.

Any horse that tries to go with Daytona may not be able to sustain the run. A closer may not get close enough to pose a threat.

Hyperbaric, second to Daytona in the Arcadia Handicap in April and third in the Shoemaker, is a potential threat from off the pace.