03/12/2003 1:00AM

Mandy's Gold likely BC favorite

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HOT SPRINGS, Ark. - Mandy's Gold, who won the Grade 1 Ruffian last September, arrived at Oaklawn Park late Tuesday night following a 19-hour van ride from Miami. She's the probable favorite for the track's Grade 3, $200,000 Oaklawn Breeders' Cup Saturday.

The 1 1/16-mile race for fillies and mares is the final local prep for the Grade 1, $500,000 Apple Blossom Handicap on April 5, which is a goal for Mandy's Gold.

Rene Douglas has the mount Saturday. Mandy's Gold left her Gulfstream Park base for Hot Springs early Tuesday.

"The flights, they're tough to get [to Hot Springs], and she ships pretty well - she's gone long distances before and seems to handle it pretty good - so we decided to van her," said Mike Gorham, who trains Mandy's Gold for Steeplechase Farm.

"My guy up there said she handled the trip fine. He said she looks good and bright-eyed. I think it's good for her there, getting out of the heat of Florida."

Mandy's Gold won her comeback from a three-month layoff Feb. 24, when she wired a field of fillies and mares at six furlongs.

Mandy's Gold had an outstanding season last year, winning 5 of 13 starts and $715,404. At one point, she reeled off four straight wins in sprint stakes.

Gorham said if things go well Saturday, his plan is to keep Mandy's Gold at Oaklawn and train her here for the Apple Blossom, which is expected to draw Horse of the Year and defending champ Azeri, Take Charge Lady, and possibly Allamerican Bertie.

Others expected for the Oaklawn BC are Secret of Mecca, who was third last out in the Grade 1 Santa Monica Handicap; Red n'Gold, who was the runner-up in the Oaklawn BC last year for trainer Bob Holthus; Bien Nicole, a four-time stakes winner on turf last year who makes a surface switch for trainer Donnie Von Hemel; and Lotta Rhythm.

Considered possible is Reason to Talk, who was runner-up to Red n'Gold in the $50,000 Pippin last month at Oaklawn.

Wiggins again?

Lotta Rhythm will try to give trainer Hal Wiggins back-to-back stakes wins at the meet when she goes in the Oaklawn BC. Last weekend, Wiggins sent out Brown Eyed Beauty to win the $50,000 Spring Fever.

Jon Court rode Brown Eyed Beauty, and will also be aboard Lotta Rhythm. In her last start, the filly, who is 6 for 16, won an allowance race by 2 3/4 lengths over stakes winner Asheville.

"She ran a good race here over the track, so we thought we'd give her a try," Wiggins said.

"She lays a little off of it and makes her run at the end. That was a mile race that allowance, and I think the extra sixteenth [Saturday] will be a whole lot better for us."

Lotta Rhythm races for her breeder, Dolphus Morrison, who also bred Grade 1 winner You.

Janelle Grum owns Brown Eyed Beauty, who will make her next start in the $50,000 Carousel Handicap here March 29. She will now be based at Oaklawn after training for the Spring Fever at Fair Grounds.

"I have to a lot of credit to Bret McLellan, my assistant in New Orleans," Wiggins said.

* Strodes Commander and Fine Answer, two impressive 3-year-old maiden winners earlier in the meet, will take on older horses in the featured ninth race Friday. The six-furlong allowance race is restricted to horses bred in Arkansas. Both colts could advance to the $50,000 Rainbow for 3-year-olds here March 29.