07/03/2002 12:00AM

Oaks lures Riskaverse as Kelly eyes Keeneland


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Riskaverse was preparing for her 3-year-old campaign last winter when Hollywood Park made an announcement that forced owner Peter Schiff and trainer Pat Kelly to change their plans for this year.

The creation of the $500,000 American Oaks, run for the first time on Saturday for 3-year-old fillies over 1 1/4 miles on turf, gave Kelly a summertime goal for Riskaverse.

"Our big target was the Queen Elizabeth in the fall," Kelly said of the Keeneland race. "Once this race was announced, we had to point for it."

Riskaverse is based in New York, but she is in the majority as a traveler attempting to win the American Oaks. Of the 15 fillies entered on Wednesday, only four made their last starts at Hollywood Park. The field will be limited to 14 starters

Among the shippers, the top contenders include Clerical Error and Dublino from Europe, and Riskaverse, Cyclorama and Cellers Shiraz from the East Coast. The local team is led by Megahertz, the winner of the Grade 2 Honeymoon Breeders' Cup Handicap on June 8, who will go favored.

While the cast may not be well-known to racing fans, Kelly thinks there is a place for the American Oaks on the national calender.

"In a couple of years, this race could get popular," Kelly said.

Riskaverse earned a invitation to the American Oaks with a second in the Grade 3 Miesque Stakes on Nov. 23 and a hard-fought victory in the Grade 3 Sands Point Stakes on June 16 at Belmont, Kelly's home track.

"She ran a nice race before she left home," Kelly said. "She was lucky enough to run here last year. It was a blessing in disguise. She handled the trip very well for a young horse and seems to have matured."

D'wildcat out to rebound

The American Oaks is the richest of three races on Saturday's program, which includes a $1 million guaranteed pick six pool. The other stakes are the $300,000 Triple Bend Breeders' Cup Handicap over seven furlongs and the $100,000 Royal Heroine Stakes for fillies and mares over a mile on turf.

D'wildcat will start in the Triple Bend, hoping to erase the memory if a ninth-place finish in the Metropolitan Handicap at Belmont Park on May 27.

"It was disastrous," trainer Bob Hess Jr. said. "I can make a bunch of excuses, but rather than do that I'd like to focus on the positive, and he's doing great. I'm certain he'll run his A-plus race."

D'wildcat has made four starts this year, including a win via promotion in the Grade 2 Churchill Downs Handicap on the Kentucky Derby undercard following the controversial disqualification of Snow Ridge.

In the Triple Bend, the 4-year-old D'wildcat faces a field of 10 that includes Kona Gold, the champion 2000 sprinter, and Mellow Fellow, the winner of six consecutive sprints. A victory would mark the richest victory by D'wildcat.

"This year has been a bit disappointing," Hess said. "We don't think he's put in anything but a B-plus effort this year. We know that he's ready and has trained extremely well over the track."

Smith teams up with Came Home

Mike Smith will ride Came Home in the $500,000 Swaps Stakes on July 14, replacing retired jockey Chris McCarron, trainer Paco Gonzalez said. On Wednesday, Smith worked Came Home five furlongs in 1:00 at Santa Anita.

The workout was the first for Came Home since he won the Affirmed Handicap at Hollywood Park on June 23, giving McCarron a winner with his last ride.

Gonzalez was pleased with Came Home's work and the start of the partnership between Smith and the colt, a five-time stakes winner.

"Chris came to watch him work. He told Mike how to work him," Gonzalez said with a laugh. "He went very good."

Came Home is owned by a partnership that includes Trudy McCaffery and John Toffan. Gonzalez, McCaffery and Toffan are seeking their third winner in the Swaps in the last 11 runnings. They won in 1992 with Bien Bien and in 1997 with Free House.

Valenzuela takes personal day

Patrick Valenzuela, the current leader in the jockey standings, took off his mounts on Wednesday to spend time with his ailing father, A.C. It was the first time that Valenzuela had missed scheduled mounts since he returned to riding last December, following a 22-month suspension for substance abuse problems.

Valenzuela met with the stewards on Wednesday to explain his absence. He is booked to ride five of the eight races on Friday's program.

Espinoza honored

Jockey Victor Espinoza on Monday was honored by the California State Assembly with a resolution that recognized his wins aboard War Emblem in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes this year.

The resolution was sponsored by the Republican Latino Caucus and presented by Assemblyman Robert Pacheco.

"It was something different, not just being around the horses," Espinoza said. "I was more nervous than I was when I rode the Kentucky Derby."

* Milwaukee Brew, who will go favored in the $750,000 Hollywood Gold Cup on July 14, worked five furlongs in 1:00.20 on Wednesday. Trained by Bobby Frankel, Milwaukee Brew recorded the second-fastest of 28 works at the distance. This year, the 5-year-old Milwaukee Brew has won the Santa Anita Handicap and the Californian Stakes.