02/14/2009 12:00AM

Machismo will try to avoid a duel


PHOENIX - Turf Paradise's marquee event, the $100,000 Phoenix Gold Cup Handicap on Saturday, has not only lured a full field of 14, but the quality is strong from top to bottom. The six-furlong fixture, race 8 on a nine-race card that includes two other stakes, has drawn the best sprinters on the Arizona circuit as well as some heavy hitters from Southern California.

Favoritism may fall to invader Machismo. Owned by Gary Barber and trained by John Sadler, the 5-year-old gelding did good work in Florida in 2008, including a couple of stakes placings. Things have gone even better this year since coming to the West Coast. He was second in the Grade 3 El Conejo at Santa Anita on Jan. 1 and second again to Georgie Boy in the Sunshine Millions Sprint. Speed is Machismo's primary asset - only trouble is, there are a number of other sizzlers signed up here, making a duel a very real possibility. Mike Smith rides.

Those who may reap the benefits of such a race shape include Song of Pirates. The onetime Darley Stable colorbearer was gone just over a year, but he came back sharp for trainer Mike Chambers, rallying strongly after stumbling badly at the start to win an optional claiming sprint here Jan. 20.

Peace Chant, a Southern California raider, may enjoy this spot, too. While the Doug O'Neill-owned and -trained runner has speed, he's not speed crazy. In his heyday he was competitive with graded-stakes types. O'Neill just claimed him for $62,500 off a sixth-place finish at Santa Anita on Jan. 17, and a bullet 1:12.20 work on Feb. 5 bodes well.

Ducky Drake has been a warrior for a long time for owners Ralph and Aury Todd and trainer Bart Hone. He's a stakes winner at Turf Paradise and in New Mexico, and was fourth in this race last year. He rallied to win the G Malleah here Jan. 24.

Northern Soldier, like Peace Chant, has been competitive with graded-stakes-level sprinters in Southern California the past few years. He appears back in form now, finishing second in Hollywood Park's Grade 3 Vernon Underwood, and then winning the Swift here on Jan. 3.

White Spar was the top 3-year-old sprinter on the circuit here last year and looked primed for a big 2009 when he was a strong winner of the Cactus Wren here Dec. 20, earning a 104 Beyer. He came back in the G Malleah but blew the start as the 8-5 favorite and was unable to threaten. He can be a factor with a better start.

Turf Paradise Cap: Zappa ships in

The $50,000 Turf Paradise Handicap, at 1 1/16 miles on the turf for 4-year-olds and upward, drew a field of nine and goes as race 7 on the card. And while Southern California invader Zappa is the horse to beat, local stalwart Bingham may still carry the day.

Owned by Dennis Weir and trained by Kevin Lewis, Bingham, a 4-year-old son of Kentucky Derby winner Monarchos, adores the sod. He's won four of his five grass starts, with three of those wins coming on this course. He posted an easy three-length win in the traditional prep for this race, the Cotton Fitzsimmons, here Jan. 17. Regular rider Glenn Corbett is up.

Zappa no doubt has the class and ability. Owned by Barber and trained by Sadler, the 7-year-old gelding has won 4 of 10 on turf - but he hasn't raced on grass in over a year. He was seventh in the Breeders' Cup Marathon over the Pro-Ride at Santa Anita on Oct. 25, but bounced back to win an optional claimer on Hollywood Park's Cushion Track on Dec. 20. Smith will ride.

Sun City: Two locals have a shot

The $50,000 Sun City (race 5), at a mile on the turf for fillies and mares 4 and up, may not have a shipper with the raw class of Zappa, but makes up for it in numbers. Storybook, a Southern California shipper who will also have Smith aboard, appears the one to beat in the field of eight. Owned by Joseph Allen and trained by Sadler, she has proven class. She rallied smartly to be fourth in the Grade 3 Tuzla at Santa Anita on Jan. 25.

Kayd Kadoun ships in from Southern California for owner Ballylinch Stud and trainer Paddy Gallagher. She won her U.S. debut at Hollywood Park on Oct. 29 after shipping in from Ireland, and then posted consecutive thirds in strong allowance races at Hollywood and Santa Anita in December. Danny Sorenson rides. La Tee invades for Allen and Susan Branch. She is multiple Grade 3-placed, and dueled and finished fourth in the Grade 3 Monrovia on the Santa Anita turf for trainer Mark Glatt. Aaron Gryder will ride.

Local stalwarts Star of Whitney and She's Sensational, however, do not appear outgunned. They just ran second and first, respectively, in the Glendale Handicap on this course Jan. 17. Star of Whitney, owned by Honor Roll Racing and trained by Dennis Sowers, is 7 for 11 on this course and will be ridden by Ry Eikleberry. She's Sensational was making her first start ever on this course when winning the Glendale for La Canada Stables LLC and trainer John Martin. Kyle Kaenel rides.