08/22/2001 11:00PM

Loose lips sink Sise's best-laid plans


DEL MAR, Calif. - Somebody must have known something. So goes the racetrack refrain, often repeated after a romping win by a first-time starter.

Trainer Cliff Sise knew something when his 2-year-old filly Lil Miss Hollywood made her debut July 30 at Del Mar. Sise knew her workouts were better than an ordinary work tab suggested. "I had her so well-hidden, there was no way anyone could have known anything," he said.

Sise entered Lil Miss Hollywood in a $50,000 maiden claimer. Sise plays the claiming game well enough to recognize situtations that are more likely to result in a claim than others. The fifth race on a sleepy Monday was not one of them. No one would claim Lil Miss Hollywood, because almost no one knew anything.

It was the perfect spot, and it kept Lil Miss Hollywood from having to face the best 2-year-olds in maiden special weight races. "I didn't want to throw her to the wolves first time out," Sise said.

It was a good plan. After the race, Sise and owner Bonnie-Jill Laflin, a model, could consider a stakes race for the filly's next start. But first things first.

Lil Miss Hollywood, relatively ignored in the wagering, closed at 7-1. She cruised to the lead under Alex Solis, broke open the race on the turn, and romped by more than six lengths, running 5 1/2 furlongs in a quick 1:03.93. It was a stakes-caliber performance by the daughter of Smart Strike, one that would earn an impressive 91 Beyer Speed Figure. Sise was right. The filly could fly.

There was only one problem. When Lil Miss Hollywood was led out of the winner's circle, Sise was stunned to see a red claim tag had been affixed to her halter. It turns out, the well-hidden filly was not such a secret after all. Word had leaked. Someone - trainer Mike Mitchell - had claimed the filly.

"I took a big risk buying her [for $31,000 in May], and we knew we were taking a shot," Sise said. "But I never thought anyone would claim her for $50,000. Something's not right. She's by a $30,000 stallion, and I only gave $31,000 for her. Her left front really cranks [inward]."

Sise was shocked, then angry. Only a few people knew Lil Miss Hollywood was doing things in the morning that were unlike an ordinary maiden claimer. Sise believed Mitchell was privy to inside information before the claim.

In fact, a person close to the Sise stable had spilled the story to another trainer, Jim Chapman. Although Chapman did not claim the filly himself, he knew someone who would. Chapman got in touch with Mitchell, who had a client looking for a young horse to buy. Chapman informed Mitchell about Lil Miss Hollywood's workouts, the Sise barn's expectations, and left it up to Mitchell.

Mitchell said the information he received from Chapman about Lil Miss Hollywood was not the sole reason he claimed her. "I had one clocker who liked her, and one clocker who didn't," Mitchell said. "I spent $3 for [clocker] Toby Turrell's sheet, and he had her picked second. That's what iced it."

Pre-race inspection and a willing owner were the only hurdles. "I was lucky enough to have [an owner] like Mickey Seagle who puts money in the account and doesn't ask any questions," Mitchell said. "It would have been a real tough sell otherwise. I went down to look at her, and the filly just stood out . . . the way she carried herself, the way she walked into the paddock."

Mitchell actually dropped the only two claim slips for the filly, whose value soared after the runaway win.

"If she wouldn't have run well," they [the Sise barn] would be having a party," Mitchell said. "No one says anything when they don't work out. I claim Julian Logan from [Bob] Baffert [for $62,500 on July 1], he breaks down, and no one says a thing."

They're talking now. Lil Miss Hollywood, the $50,000 maiden claimer, will be entered in the Grade 1 Del Mar Debutante on Sunday. The competition is tough, but the filly has a fighting chance against Eoin Harty-trained Tempera and Baffert-trained Habibaty. Sise will watch from the sidelines, with mixed emotions.

"I'll be pulling for the filly; she's such a classy filly," Sise said. However, it still irks Sise that Mitchell claimed Lil Miss Hollywood based on inside information.

Said Sise: "Somebody's mouth got me caught. But it won't happen again."