09/29/2005 11:00PM

No superstars in Hirsch

Sweet Return, winner of the Eddie Read Handicap, is the lone Grade 1 winner in the Clement L. Hirsch Turf Championship on Sunday.

ARCADIA, Calif. - Even if the surprise entry of Sweet Return in the Grade 1 Clement L. Hirsch Turf Championship rescues the 1 1/4-mile turf race from unimportance, two lesser stakes Sunday at Santa Anita may ultimately overshadow the main event.

Hollywood Story and Island Fashion prep for the Breeders' Cup Distaff when they meet in the Grade 2 Lady's Secret Handicap; Jealous Profit and A.P. Warrior try to prove they belong in the BC Juvenile by first running in the Grade 2 Norfolk Stakes.

While the $250,000 Hirsch is positioned as a prep race for the BC Turf, this year's field of eight is widely perceived to be modest. The only prominent entrants are two-time Grade 1 winner Sweet Return and Arlington Million third-place finisher Fourty Niners Son. The others have much to prove, including steadily advancing Laura's Lucky Boy.

"He's been improving all summer, and his races show it," trainer Richard Mandella said.

finished second by a nose in the Grade 2 Del Mar Handicap last time, possibly compromised by a Del Mar turf course that was kind to speed. "It's hard to make that big move when the course isn't perfect," Mandella said.

After winning 3 of his first 4 starts, Laura's Lucky Boy has won twice (once by disqualification) in his last 10 starts, with three second-place finishes. Two starts back he was beaten a head by Sarafan in the Escondido at Del Mar and put up to first when Sarafan was disqualified.

"I wouldn't say he's got anybody over a barrel, but as far as I'm concerned, his last two races are [top class]," Mandella said. "If we go to the Breeders' Cup, it would be the Turf." Gary Stevens rides Laura's Lucky Boy.

Corey Nakatani rides the Neil Drysdale-trained Fourty Niners Son, who had a tough trip last time in a stronger race.

"The Arlington Million is a significant race, and my horse had a little bit of an excuse," he said about Fourty Niners Son's third-place finish. "There was a lot of traffic at the quarter pole, and I had to wait a little bit."

The Arlington Million was another forward move by Fourty Niners Son, and the effort was flattered when fourth-place finisher Better Talk Now returned to win the Grade 1 Man o' War. Furthermore, Nakatani is convinced Fourty Niners Son ran well despite not liking the yielding turf.

"It was really soft," Nakatani said, "and the first part of the race he wanted no part of it."

, 4 for 12, previously ran second in the Grade 1 Eddie Read Handicap. Fourty Niners Son enters the Hirsch as its most likely winner, particularly if Sweet Return is vulnerable.

After winning back-to-back Grade 1's in slow-pace races at Hollywood and Del Mar, ran seventh in the Million. He was freshened and aimed for the Grade 2 Oak Tree Breeders' Cup Mile on Oct. 8 until a last-minute change in plans led to entry in the Hirsch. The only Grade 1 winner in the field, Sweet Return has won 7 of 27 starts.

Ron McAnally trains Sweet Return, and assistant trainer Dan Landers said the horse has been galloping a mile and three-quarters daily and should be fit. The likelihood of a strong pace is not to his benefit.

Deep closer Runaway Dancer was the beaten favorite in the Del Mar Handicap, which was dominated by front-runners.

"I'm throwing the race out," trainer Dan Hendricks said, cautioning that the Hirsch, "might be a little short for him." Runaway Dancer's two graded stakes wins were at 1 1/2 miles.

The gray front-runner Leprechaun Kid will try to reproduce his Del Mar Handicap victory by leading gate to wire, but the dynamics of the Hirsch promise to be entirely different.

Whilly is a natural front-runner who probably is quicker than Leprechaun Kid; Sweet Return also will press the pace. Leprechaun Kid was claimed for $80,000 one start back by trainer Mike Mitchell prior to his Del Mar upset.

The field

Clement L. Hirsch
Purse: $250,000; 1 1/4 miles, turf; Grade 1

1Leprechaun KidT. Baze6-1
2WhillyF. Martinez8-1
3Fourty Niners SonC. Nakatani3-1
4Runaway DancerG. Gomez8-1
5Continental RedV. Espinoza10-1
6Sweet ReturnA. Solis7-2
7Laura's Lucky BoyG. Stevens4-1
8ExteriorP. Valenzuela8-1

* Blinkers on: Whilly
* All starters carry 124 pounds
* Odds by Michael Hammersly