12/30/2004 12:00AM

Newark drops on return to favorite oval

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PHOENIX - Newark might have found the waters too deep in the Grade 3 Vernon O. Underwood at Hollywood Park Dec. 5, but returning to his backyard of Turf Paradise will be a heavy favorite in Saturday's $40,000 Cactus Wren Handicap. Newark carries highweight of 126 pounds, taking on six other Arizona-breds at 6 1/2 furlongs.

The Cactus Wren is the third race on a nine-race card that also includes the $21,000 Ocean Bay (race 8) for fillies and mares over 7 1/2 furlongs on the turf.

Newark likes this track; he has gotten 6 of his 7 career wins here. He won the Grand Canyon Handicap here in April, then was gone for over three months. He came back and ran third in stakes at Santa Rosa and Del Mar, then returned here and won the Caballos del Sol Handicap Oct. 9 and the Zip Pocket Nov. 1.

The streak gave his connections the belief that Newark could run with some of the California bigshots, so they tried the Underwood on Dec. 5. Newark was steadied at the start and never got untracked. The return to Turf Paradise and the big class drop make him a heavy favorite Saturday, even if he is giving away 3 to 16 pounds to his rivals.

Grimm, the 123-pound second-highweight, has bragging rights of his own at this track. Grimm also has 6 of his 7 career wins here, including wins in this race, the Coyote Handicap, Patchy Groundfog, and Black Mountain Handicap, all in 2003. His 2004 schedule was limited, but he performed well when he ran, including a third to Newark in the Caballos del Sol here Oct. 9, beaten just over two lengths.

A well-matched field eight is set for the Ocean Bay. The main contenders figure to be Royal Again, beaten a nose at 4-5 by North of Rio in a turf sprint here Dec. 13; North of Rio, winner of two straight; Friendofthefamily, second to top local female Muir Beach in the Mesa Handicap here Dec. 18 and a perfect 3 for 3 on this turf course; and Arch Lady, third in the Mesa after rattling off three stakes wins on the dirt here this meet.