06/03/2008 11:00PM

New riders mean new strategies


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - The burden of past success forces Lava Man to carry top weight of 121 pounds Saturday in the Grade 1 Charles Whittingham Memorial Handicap. But 119-pound second topweight Champs Elysees is expected to go favored in the 1 1/4-mile turf race. Both horses will have new riders, and both are expected to alter strategy after losing their most recent start.

Tyler Baze replaces Corey Nakatani on Lava Man, a switch that suggests enterprising new tactics. Baze has a reputation as a front-end rider, and whatever speed Lava Man still has at age 7, he is likely to show it Saturday. Lava Man will have company on the lead, however, because probable Whittingham starter Plug Me In also runs on the front.

The pace scenario could benefit Champs Elysees, who will be ridden for the first time by Bejarano. He replaces Ramon Dominguez, who may have moved too early on Champs Elysees when he lost the Grade 2 Jim Murray Memorial Handicap at 2-5. Trainer Bobby Frankel is hoping for a patient ride.

"I thought he found himself on the lead too soon," Frankel said, referring to the Murray. "He made the lead, and his ears went up."

Champs Elysees lost by a nose to On the Acorn.

Champs Elysees has been plagued by bad luck in the U.S. He was badly blocked finishing second in the Grade 1 Hollywood Turf Cup in December, and in the Santa Anita Handicap he broke poorly and was blocked in the lane before finishing third.

It also is possible Champs Elysees is a wee overrated. He has won just 3 of 15 starts, with 6 seconds and 4 thirds. Favored seven times, he has won only twice as the chalk.

Other expected starters in the Whittingham, with weights, include Artiste Royale, 117 pounds; Warning Zone, 115; Mr. Wolverine, 114; Porfido, 114; Monzante, 113; and Plug Me In, 113.

Epic Power bears watching

Based on a drab third-place comeback April 26 in a stakes for California-breds, there is widespread doubt Lava Man will be effective this season in Grade 1 races. Lava Man finished third in the Khaled Stakes, and was outrun late by a seemingly outclassed Epic Power, who ran second. The race was Lava Man's first start in nearly six months. The overly optimistic analysis is Lava Man needed the start and will improve Saturday.

But if Lava Man figures as a contender in the Whittingham, then the horse he finished three-quarters of a length behind in the Khaled should win race 2 Thursday. Epic Power returns in a five-horse allowance at a mile on turf, and the 12-for-57 gelding should get a perfect trip positioned right behind front-runner Fight On. A win by Epic Power would at least flatter Lava Man's third-place comeback, as well as Khaled winner Mr. Wolverine.

Puype anticipates turnaround

Mike Puype has had more than his share of bad racing luck this meet. So he may have tempted fate to intervene once again when he discussed the chances of Genuine Magic, the favorite in race 6 Thursday.

"Unless she gets a bad trip, she should win," he said.

He's right, Genuine Magic should win, but only if she avoids the growing list of bad trips by Puype runners. Major Pleasure got stuck inside and ran fourth Saturday. Gorgeous Goose was blocked the final three-eighths and finished sixth in the Grade 3 Senorita Stakes on May 10. Mama Luc was caught four wide in her first route and finished third on May 8. Six Again was expected to win Wednesday after a brutal trip May 3.

"It's been unbelievably evil," Puype said, and he was not complaining.

This week, the tide may turn. Six Again was the 7-2 program favorite Wednesday in race 4. Genuine Magic, runner-up in a fast race last out, returns at the same level Thursday in a starter-allowance. It is her second start off the claim by owner Bob Bone.

"She's improved a ton," Puype said adding that, "having [Rafael] Bejarano on her doesn't hurt anything."

Puype also hopes Gorgeous Goose gets a better trip Saturday in the Grade 2 Honeymoon Handicap. She finished sixth in the Senorita after being blocked through the far turn and stretch. "I'm not sure how many of those horses will get a mile and one-eighth, but I know she will," Puype said.

Guillot runs three, really likes one

Trainer Eric Guillot entered three starters Thursday, and while bullish on 2-year-old maiden Nochangenweather in race 8, he is bearishly realistic regarding race-5 contender Good Mood and race-7 contender Marvel Wood.

Good Mood's "best races are behind her," Guillot said. He said she was purchased last fall primarily as a broodmare prospect. Good Mood entered an allowance race May 8, but got sick and was scratched.

"Two days later, she was good," Guillot said.

She drops out of graded stakes Thursday and Guillot said "she'll run all right." Her rivals in the second-level turf allowance include Honored Gold and Musical High.

The race-7 feature is a six-furlong main-track allowance, and the only asset for Marvel Wood is he can finish. Need-the-lead speedballs Tontine Too, Bro Lo and Sea of Pleasure figure to run each other ragged, and set it up for closers Silver Stetson Man, Exceeding, or Marvel Wood. The problem with Marvel Wood is that his reputation and subsequent sale to Southern Equine Stable is based on a pair of high-figure races at Philadelphia Park.

"Philadelphia Park and Santa Anita are not the same," Guillot said. "[Marvel Wood] might need to go the fairs."

In two starts this winter at Santa Anita, Marvel Wood finished fifth and sixth.