12/10/2009 1:00AM

Mutak Gold tries to rebound from rare clunker

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Mutak Gold's seemingly strong surge to the top of the handicap division at Turf Paradise hit an unexpected and severe bump in the road with a disastrous last outing. He looks to get back on track in Saturday's $50,000 Hank Mills Sr. Handicap at Turf Paradise.

The one mile main-track event drew a tough field of eight, and while Mutak Gold is the 124-pound highweight and likely favorite he must deal with big recent winner and last year's runner-up in this race, Bingham, as well as last year's winner, Highland Games.

Trained by Dan McFarlane, Mutak Gold was claimed for $62,500 out of a good third in a sprint at Del Mar on Aug. 19 after some solid California form. It took him no time to lay claim to being the best horse on this circuit. He romped in the opening-day Bienvenido by 6 1/4 lengths over Bingham and another of Saturday's foes, Tie Rod. He then showed his versatility, moving to turf to win the Walter R. Cluer on Oct. 24.

Mutak Gold went into the Nov. 21 Caballos del Sol at six furlongs as the 3-2 favorite. He broke slowly, however, and was never in the race, finishing last of nine, beaten more than 19 lengths by Twin Sparks, who set a world record in that race.

Bingham was no match for Mutak Gold in either the Bienvenido or the Walter R. Cluer. Trained by Kevin Lewis, he was second in the Bienvenido but only sixth after a very slow start in the Cluer.

His last, however, may be a sign Bingham is back to his best form. He went right to the lead in an optional claimer Nov. 27 at this trip, opened up and kept on going, reporting home 9 1/4 lengths in front of multiple stakes winner Nosir, earning a 99 Beyer in the process. For comparison, Mutak Gold's lifetime high Beyer is 92, earned in the Bienvenido on this track at this trip.

Highland Games stalked and rallied to edge Bingham in this race last year. Trained by Lyman Rollins, the 6-year-old Highland Games won the closing-day Hasta La Vista locally and the Inaugural Handicap at Yavapai, both in May.

Highland Games didn't race again until Nov. 7 when he was a modest fourth in an optional claiming sprint, before being no factor when seventh in the Caballos del Sol. He is 5 for 6 at this distance.