07/12/2004 11:00PM

Midsummer duel unlikely

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ARCADIA, Calif. - A midsummer showdown between the country's leading handicap horses - Pleasantly Perfect and Southern Image - is growing less likely by the day. The Pacific Classic on Aug. 22 at Del Mar remains on the agenda, but only one of the horses may make the race.

Pleasantly Perfect, winner of the Breeders' Cup Classic and Dubai World Cup, moved closer to a return with a sharp seven-furlong workout Tuesday. Meanwhile, Southern Image, winner of the Santa Anita Handicap and Pimlico Special, stayed at the barn, making it 17 days since he trained.

Pleasantly Perfect worked at 8 a.m. Tuesday at Santa Anita, covering seven furlongs in 1:23.60 as he prepares for his Aug. 1 comeback in the Grade 2 San Diego Handicap at Del Mar. The 6-year-old galloped out a mile in 1:36.60 and 1 1/8 miles in 1:51.80. Trainer Richard Mandella tried to contain his enthusiasm after the drill, but he failed miserably.

"That wasn't bad, huh?" Mandella said, marveling at the 6-year-old's behavior leaving the track. "Look at him walking off, he's just bobbing his head like an old saddle horse. I've never seen anything like him."

Pleasantly Perfect has won eight races and $6.9 million, and will take some beating in the 1 1/16-mile San Diego.

As for Southern Image, the foot abscess he popped last week continues to heal - slowly.

"It's kind of in a bad spot inside his left foot, and I just want to make sure it doesn't get any worse," trainer Mike Machowsky said.

Southern Image still looks terrific, and he is the kind of horse who does not require much work to prepare for a race. But until the abscess dries and Machowsky can apply a patch, the 4-year-old will remain at the barn. A winner of six races and $1.8 million, Southern Image has not been to the track since June 26.

"We'll just play it by ear," Machowsky said. "I've never forced him, and I'm not going to now."

Even the Score moving forward

Even the Score, third as the odds-on favorite in the Hollywood Gold Cup on Saturday, came out of the race in excellent shape, and trainer Vladimir Cerin is looking forward to the Pacific Classic. Cerin cited a combination of factors that led to Even the Score's 1 3/4-length loss to Total Impact - a wide trip, picking up six pounds from his win in the Californian, and an imperfect training schedule.

"I couldn't train him as hard for this race, the way the shoeing dates fell, so I think he'll improve for the Pacific Classic," Cerin said.

The Pacific Classic is expected to include Total Impact, while the Gold Cup runner-up, Olmodavor, will run next in either the Pacific Classic or the Washington Park Handicap at Arlington. Swaps Stakes winner Rock Hard Ten, whose 108 Beyer equals the 108 earned by Total Impact in the Gold Cup, would get a seven-pound weight break in the Pacific Classic. Three-year-olds carry 117 pounds, older horses 124.

Sunset Handicap loses Sabiango

Sabiango is out of the Sunset Handicap on Sunday, and his defection has thrown the Grade 2 turf race into utter chaos. Sabiango scored a gate-to-wire upset June 12 in the Grade 1 Charles Whittingham Handicap, but trainer Bob Baffert said "he spiked a temperature and I lost some time with him."

The $150,000 Sunset is run at 1 1/2 miles on turf, and the contenders include Continuously, Freedy, Gulchie, Leprechaun Kid, Runaway Dancer, and Star Over the Bay.

Baffert will start two in the Grade 3 Hollywood Juvenile Stakes on Saturday. Roman Ruler will start as the heavy favorite in the six-furlong stakes, while Actxecutive will try to rebound from a fourth-place finish June 20 in the Haggin Stakes.

"He didn't like that track the other day, but [the Juvenile] looks like it's coming up short, so I might run two," Baffert said.

Jim McIngvale purchased Actxecutive after he won his debut by more than 10 lengths. Roman Ruler was scheduled for a Tuesday workout, but Baffert called an audible and will gallop him into the Juvenile.

"I'm not going to work him - he worked pretty fast the other day and he's doing awesome," Baffert said.

Roman Ruler, a son of Fusaichi Pegasus and a half-brother to Grade 1 winner El Corredor, won his June 19 debut by four lengths with an

84 Beyer. He worked a bullet six furlongs July 8 in 1:11.40 at Santa Anita.

Only two others are likely to contest the Juvenile - Haggin runner-up Gentleman Count and first-time starter Commandant. Chandtrue, the unbeaten Haggin winner, is expected to pass the Juvenile.

Siphonizer won't run at Del Mar

Siphonizer, winner of the 2003 Del Mar Futurity, will skip the 2004 Del Mar meet because of a liver problem. Trainer Richard Mandella had planned to run Siphonizer against older horses July 25 in the Grade 1 Bing Crosby, but said Tuesday that Siphonizer will be out two months.

A 3-year-old, Siphonizer has won three of six, and earned a 104 Beyer Figure with a runaway victory in his only start this year.

Boomzeeboom back to one turn?

Boomzeeboom, third in the Grade 3 Affirmed Handicap on Saturday, may turn back to one corner for his next start, according to trainer Vladimir Cerin.

"I think he's a very good miler, and from six to eight furlongs he's very tough to beat," Cerin said.

The trainer said he will consider the Grade 2 Pat O'Brien, a seven-furlong race on Aug. 15 at Del Mar.

Cerin said that Twice as Bad, compromised by a slow start Saturday in the Grade 3 Carry Back at Calder, could try a two-turn grass race at Del Mar. The 1 1/16-mile La Jolla Handicap for 3-year-olds will be run Aug. 14.