05/30/2007 11:00PM

Move by Kip Deville reflects synthetic trend


INGLEWOOD, Calif. – Let’s say, for the sake of argument, your top horse happens to be the best turf miler in the country. Let’s say he throws in a Memorial Day clunker. Do you panic? Of course not.

But if the horse is Kip Deville, it sure does look like panic when you spend $5,000 to supplement him to the Californian Stakes – on the main track – Saturday at Hollywood Park. It means jamming back Kip Deville in five days, and setting yourself up as an easy target.

Michael Iavarone of IEAH Stables heads the Kip Deville ownership group, and he admits, “We’ll look like heroes or zeroes. At the end of the day, the horse will tell who’s right.”

Is it a bonehead move by a meddling owner? Surprisingly, no. In this case, owner and trainer are on the same page. Richard Dutrow Jr. trains Kip Deville, who won three graded turf stakes at a mile before the Shoemaker debacle on Memorial Day. He finished sixth as the 7-5 favorite.

Iavarone said he trusts Dutrow’s judgment.

“[Dutrow] said this horse bounced right out of the race, and I have to go with what he thinks,” Iavarone said.

Based on input from Dutrow and Kip Deville’s affinity for Cushion Track in morning workouts, the decision was to wheel him right back. Running in the Californian merely pushes up his next scheduled start by four weeks.

“We were going to run [June 30] in the Hollywood Gold Cup, that was the plan all along,” Iavarone said. “He’s a freak on Cushion Track. I think he’ll put on a show Saturday.”

Kip Deville was supposed to put on a show Monday. But he was trapped inside early, got rank, pulled, and expended much of his energy early instead of late. Kip Deville lost by two lengths, drank one gulp of water after the race, and acted like he was ready to fight again. Wheel him right back? Why not?

“If you look at Dutrow’s record, he’s probably better bringing them back on short rest,” Iavarone said.

According to Formulator stats, Dutrow is a 26 percent winner (33 for 126) over the past five years running back within a week.

Kip Deville’s entry in the Californian, based on Cushion Track workouts, highlights a recurring theme in California. Turf horses are making the move to synthetic with greater frequency.

Allowance-caliber A.P. Xcellent probably would not have entered on another surface. His speed and 3-for-3 Cushion Track record make him a key player in the 1 1/8-mile Californian. Question is, Is he good enough?

Saint Stephen won a Grade 3 on the Hollywood main track last fall, when the turf-to-Cushion angle had greater value. Saint Stephen’s recent form has tailed off, but his Dec. 10 win in the Native Diver Handicap makes him a horse-for-course contender.

Several other Californian contenders are dirt horses without a win on synthetic. Grade 1 winner Buzzards Bay ran third in his comeback, his only start on Cushion Track. Boboman, previously a turf horse, finished third this spring in back-to-back dirt stakes. Boboman has trained on Cushion Track all year, but has never raced on it.

Perfect Drift has earned $4.6 million and finished second twice in two Polytrack races in Kentucky. Wilko, who has been hanging around forever but is really only 5 years old, ran third his only start on Cushion Track.

Based solely on their Cushion Track win records, A.P. Xcellent and Saint Stephen could be considered the horses to beat Saturday. As usual, there is more to it than simply backing a horse because of a win over the track.

Five weeks into the Hollywood spring-summer meet, the differences between Cushion Track and dirt are less conspicuous than many expected. But they are perceptible and worthy of inspection.

One notable Cushion Track characteristic is track-profile distinctions. Speed loses its value as distances increase. Based on percent of winners that were positioned within two lengths of the lead at both pace calls, a telling decline is evident. At six furlongs, 59 percent of the races have been won by horses who were within two lengths of the lead at both pace calls; at 6 1/2 furlongs, 50 percent; at seven furlongs, 41 percent; at 1 1/16 miles, 35 percent.

Make no mistake – early speed remains a weapon, but it is not a crutch. In race 1 Wednesday, front-runner Com Easy was hammered to even-money in her first start around two turns. She finished off the board, another example of a two-turn speed horse that failed at a short price.

But later Wednesday, a wicked display of speed by a front-runner reminded skeptics they may not be as smart as they think. Silver Z was hammered to even-money in race 7, a 1 1/16-mile race for fillies and mares, nonwinners of one other than. Silver Z was just the type of vulnerable front-runner to wager against, and when she opened up with the fastest six-furlong fraction of the meet at 1 1/16 miles (1:10.22), the only question was which closer would take advantage most.

Only one problem – Silver Z did not stop. She opened up and coasted to the wire in front by 8 1/2 lengths. It’s fine to be a skeptic and bet against front-runners such as Silver Z, or grass horses such as Kip Deville in main-track stakes. But sometimes, you’re just going to be wrong.

A.P. Xcellent, the likely Californian pacesetter, has won three Hollywood races by setting or pressing the pace. It might not be a good idea to throw him out based on track profile.

So who wins the Californian? Buzzards Bay was a race away from peak form when he returned from a 10-month layoff on May 5. A slow start took him out of his pressing style; he made a huge wide move through the far turn, then flattened out.

With a prep race and a better start, Buzzards Bay should win the Californian, and head into the Hollywood Gold Cup as the horse that Molengao, Lava Man, and maybe even Kip Deville will have to beat.