03/21/2002 12:00AM

Mr. Mysterious and the horse from nowhere


NEW ORLEANS - On the one hand, they have combined to make one start in the last 22 months. On the other, they have combined to win 10 of their 12 career races, and both were Group 1 winners during their former lives as European turf stars.

They are Beat Hollow and Suances, two California-based horses shrouded in mystery who have shipped to New Orleans for a start Sunday in the $700,000 Explosive Bid Handicap.

The pair was joined on a flight early Thursday morning by two other Californians, Sarafan and Designed for Luck. Their form is easier to gauge: Sarafan finished second March 2 in the Grade 2 Frank Kilroe Handicap, with Designed for Luck a head behind in third.

If we know to some degree what those two are, there is little telling how good Beat Hollow and Suances may be. As a 3-year-old in 2000, Beat Hollow won 3 of 4 starts, including the Group 1 Gran Prix de Paris, and even his lone loss was good, a third place finish behind Sinndar and Sakhee in the Epsom Derby. But after his Group 1 win in late June 2000, Beat Hollow did not race again until Jan. 31, when he showed up in an allowance race at Santa Anita for trainer Bobby Frankel, winning by a length.

"He ran well that day," Frankel said. "He was trapped, and when he got out he did what he needed to do to win. I'm hoping he can be as good as he was before."

Frankel said he was not certain what kept Beat Hollow from racing for so long. Frankel got the horse in September and nursed him through some minor problems before bringing him back to the races. "We gave him some time, and he's been perfect since then," said Frankel.

While Beat Hollow is a product of the powerful Juddmonte Farms, his breeder and owner, Suances came from nowhere. Suances began his career in Spain, far from the major European racing centers, but burst out of obscurity to win a pair of graded stakes in France, the last of which was a six-length win in the Grade 1 Prix Jean Prat.

Red Baron's Barn purchased him privately after that win and brought him to California to train with Darrell Vienna. Suances was ready for his American debut later that summer, and shipped from California to Arlington Park for the American Derby. But the day he was to have run, Suances had an accident in the quarantine barn, badly slicing his leg on a steel door. And then Suances, too, vanished from the racing scene.

"It's been a long time, baby," Vienna said this week. "He sliced some ligaments in his leg. It was in an area that would bend, and it would break open again. He missed maybe a year."

Finally, Suances's leg healed to the point that exercise didn't damage it, and Vienna was able to begin training him again. That was several months ago, and Suances has done nothing since to suggest he can't return to his 3-year-old form. Suances has outworked the fastest dirt horses in Vienna's barn while giving the appearance, Vienna said, of cruising at a high gallop.

"He looks like a big locomotive," Vienna said. "I don't see any indication from his works that his talent and willingness have diminished at all. His works say he could be any kind of horse."

Vienna is not even worried about Suances coming back from a 22-month layoff. "I could have kept him here for an overnight race," Vienna said. "But I'm not concerned about his fitness, and I'm not concerned about his quality. It will just come down to racing luck and how he handles the surface."

Hap happy to be here

While the four Californians bound for the Explosive Bid arrived here just before noon Thursday, the East Coast contingent, headed by Hap, spent Thursday morning at Fair Grounds. Hap was out for an easy gallop before the 8 a.m. renovation break and appears to have handled shipping well.

"He was a little strong this morning, but he shipped yesterday and didn't train," said Leana Willaford, an assistant to trainer Bill Mott.

The Explosive Bid field, with riders, is shaping up this way: Beat Hollow (Alex Solis); Candid Glen (E.J. Perrodin); Chorwon (Robby Albarado); Designed for Luck (Victor Espinoza); Even the Score (Donnie Meche); Fan Club's Mister (Frank Lovato); Full of Wonder (Willie Martinez); Hap (Pat Day); North East Bound (Richard Migliore); Northcote Road (Larry Melancon); Pisces (Roger Velez); Sarafan (Corey Nakatani); and Suances (David Flores).

Mystery Giver and Nat's Big Party are on the fence.

* The 3-year-old colt French Assault still has not been able to return to training and is highly unlikely to make the Arkansas Derby next month. Trainer Keith Desormeaux had hoped to redirect French Assault to the Arkansas Derby after he was forced to scratch the colt from the Louisiana Derby after French Assault became ill two days before the race. French Assault, who is suffering from an intestinal disorder, has improved, but not to the point that Desormeaux feels he can train the horse.