04/05/2006 11:00PM

Magnum, second in Big Cap, has upper hand

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HOT SPRINGS, Ark. - Horses coming out of the Santa Anita Handicap have won two of the last four runnings of the Grade 2, $500,000 Oaklawn Handicap, and that is just one reason to like Magnum on Saturday when the 1 1/8-mile race is renewed for the 60th time at Oaklawn Park.

The Oaklawn will share a card with the Grade 1, $500,000 Apple Blossom Handicap, and together the races open the annual Racing Festival of the South, when nine stakes worth $2.8 million are decided over the final week of the meet.

Magnum, second in the Santa Anita Handicap last out, will face formidable rivals in Buzzards Bay, the 118-pound highweight and winner of last year's Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby, and Purim, who dominated the Grade 3 Razorback Breeders' Cup Handicap here last month. The other entrants are It's No Joke and Andromeda's Hero, the third- and fifth-place finishers in the Grade 2 Gulfstream Park Handicap, as well as With Distinction, Gouldings Green, and Master Command.

Magnum, however, is the horse to beat. He will attempt to follow in the footsteps of Grand Reward and Kudos, who won the Oaklawn after starts in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Handicap. Last month, Magnum rewarded the confidence his trainer, Darrell Vienna, showed in him when, in his North American stakes debut, he ran a big second in the Santa Anita on March 4. Sent to post at 17-1, Magnum rallied from sixth to finish three-quarters of a length behind Lava Man.

"I think he was a little unlucky," Vienna said of Magnum. "Not to take anything away from the winner, but he was down on the worst part of the track, and it had been raining and it was very deep down inside, and he was kind of trapped down there."

Magnum put in a strong bid and earned a career-best Beyer Speed Figure of 112, which is the highest last-race number among starters in the Oaklawn. Magnum has natural speed, but on the cutback from 1 1/4 miles he could be coming for the leaders in the later stages. Vienna has given the mount on Magnum, who made a striking appearance when he galloped here Thursday, to Martin Pedroza.

Buzzards Bay also comes into the Oaklawn off a career-high Beyer, a 108. He earned it for his four-length win in the Grade 3, $150,000 All American at Golden Gate Fields on Feb. 20. With the victory, Buzzards Bay improved his record at the Oaklawn distance to 2 for 3. He figures to be prominent Saturday.

"He's going to be laying right there," said Ron Ellis, who trains Buzzards Bay and has given the mount to Jose Valdivia Jr. "I know With Distinction has speed. I would expect a very similar race to the one he ran at Golden Gate, when he laid second and pressed the pacesetter. That's kind of what our plan will be this time."

Purim, who can stalk, has been based at Oaklawn since the Razorback. Trainer Tom Proctor has given the mount to Robby Albarado.