01/16/2004 12:00AM

Machowsky opts for Millions


ARCADIA, Calif. - Mike Machowsky scored the richest win of his training career with Southern Image in the $250,000 Malibu Stakes on Dec. 26, opening day of the Santa Anita meeting.

The record may hold up for a month.

On Saturday, Machowsky has two starters in the Sunshine Millions for California-breds and Florida-breds at Santa Anita - Fencelineneighbor in the $500,000 Filly and Mare Turf and Southern Image in the $1 million Classic.

While those lucrative races are not as prestigious as the Grade 1 Malibu, the presence of Fencelineneighbor and Southern Image in the fields is a reflection of the interest in the Sunshine Millions among owners and trainers.

Both are running Saturday instead of in more well-established races at Santa Anita.

Southern Image would be a top contender in the $300,000 Strub Stakes for 4-year-olds over 1 1/8 miles on Feb. 7. Fencelineneighbor, whom Machowsky is eager to run on the main track, could have gone in Sunday's El Encino Stakes, and may go in the La Canada Stakes for 4-year-old fillies on Feb. 14.

The prize money in the Classic is too much to pass up with an in-form 4-year-old such as Southern Image, regardless of the tradition attached to the Strub, Machowsky said.

"With a $1 million purse, it's a great concept," he said. "I wish the timing was better for the 4-year-olds. It takes away from the Strub.

"I'd love to run in the Strub because it's such a prestigious race, but it makes it hard on a horse if you want to have a long campaign. If I had a 5-year-old, I wouldn't care."

Southern Image won his first stakes in the Malibu, his third victory in four starts. He won an allowance race over 1 1/16 miles at Del Mar last August and has yet to try the Sunshine Millions Classic distance of 1 1/8 miles.

Southern Image is on the Florida-bred team but is certainly at home at Santa Anita, where he won a maiden race and finished third in the San Vicente Stakes last winter.

For the Classic, the Florida-bred probables are stronger than the California-breds. Peace Rules, third in the 2003 Kentucky Derby, will be favored, while Touch the Wire is coming off a third in the San Fernando Breeders' Cup Stakes on Jan. 10.

The California-breds include Grey Memo, third in the inaugural Sunshine Millions Classic at Gulfstream Park last year; Continental Red, the 2002 California-bred horse of the year; and Excess Summer, the winner of four stakes last summer and fall.

Fencelineneighbor likes the distance

Fencelineneighbor should have little difficulty with the Filly and Mare Turf distance of 1 1/8 miles. She scored a half-length win in the Audrey Skirball-Kenis Stakes at that distance at Hollywood Park on Nov. 23, her most recent start.

"I've pointed to this race for the last few months," Machowsky said. "I've never had a chance to give her time off."

Fencelineneighbor joined Machowsky's stable in June and had two stakes wins in five subsequent starts. Fencelineneighbor was acquired privately by John and Jerry Amerman before the Audrey Skirball-Kenis.

On Friday, Fencelineneighbor worked seven furlongs, officially in 1:24.40 - though Machowsky timed her a second faster.

Jockey Victor Espinoza was aboard Fencelineneighbor and has the mount in the Filly and Mare Turf.

"I went a little too fast, but she did it on her own," Espinoza said.

Fencelineneighbor is a Florida-bred who has already faced one of the top California-breds, Valentine Dancer. Valentine Dancer finished second to Fencelineneighbor in the Barona Cup Handicap at Del Mar.

The order was reversed in he Harold Ramser Handicap at Santa Anita in October, as Fencelineneighbor was stuck in traffic in early stretch and rallied to finish second.

Even if Fencelineneighbor scores the fourth stakes win of her career on turf Saturday, she might move to the dirt for the La Canada, Machowsky said. Run over 1 1/8 miles, the La Canada is a Grade 2 worth $200,000.

Promotions, promotions

Santa Anita is promoting the Sunshine Millions in conventional ways - track program, in-house television, and banners - and in obscure ways as well. Three flags fly over the grandstand - the U.S. flag, the state of California, and one for the Sunshine Millions.

There are four Sunshine Millions races at Santa Anita and four at Gulfstream Park. The other Santa Anita races are the Filly and Mare Sprint over six furlongs and the Dash for 3-year-olds.

Pleasantly Perfect ripe for return

Pleasantly Perfect, the upset winner of the Breeders' Cup Classic in October, worked a mile in 1:39.20 on Friday, preparing for his 2004 debut in the $250,000 San Antonio Handicap on Jan. 31. "We're ready," trainer Richard Mandella said.

Mandella's turf division is another story. The Tin Man, the winner of the San Marcos Stakes and the fourth-place finisher in the Breeders' Cup Turf, has been turned out for a month because of a persistent ankle problem.

The Tin Man suffered a wrenched ankle before the Hollywood Turf Cup in November and has not been in serious training in recent weeks.

Johar, who finished in a dead heat for win in the Breeders' Cup Turf, is galloping. Mandella has the Arcadia Handicap over 1 1/8 miles on April 3 as Johar's potential first start of 2004.

Two 150-granders on Monday

Monday's Martin Luther King holiday program has two $150,000 stakes - the Santa Ynez for 3-year-old fillies over seven furlongs and the San Marcos over 1 1/4 miles on turf.

The Santa Ynez has 11 entrants including the undefeated Whoopi Cat, as well as House of Fortune and Silent Sighs, stakes winners against California-breds in recent months.

The San Marcos has nine entrants, four of whom are 4-year-olds who were stakes winners last year - Californian, Fairly Ransom, Nothing to Lose, and Sweet Return. Fairly Ransom won the Del Mar Derby in September but finished second to stablemate Sweet Return in a slowly run Hollywood Derby in November. Both are trained by Ron McAnally.

* The highest $2 win mutuel of the month-long meeting came in Friday's second race, when Corenn won a maiden claimer and paid $132.40.