07/14/2005 11:00PM

One Off live new face in Sunset

Email

PHOENIX - The only thing consistent about the horses that have been running in long-distance turf races out West is their inconsistency.

There have been six major stakes run this year in Southern California for older horses on the turf going at least 1 1/4 miles. Those races, with winners, have been: the San Marcos (Whilly), San Luis Obispo (License to Run), San Luis Rey (Stanley Park), San Juan Capistrano (T. H. Approval), Jim Murray (Runaway Dancer), and Charles Whittingham (Sweet Return). Six races, six different winners.

The turn-taking extends back to last fall as well. Pellegrino won the Hollywood Turf Cup while Star Over the Bay won the Clement L. Hirsch at Oak Tree. Star Over the Bay was the only horse to put any sense of order to the division out West as he preceded his Hirsch win with victories in the Del Mar and Sunset handicaps in the summer.

So it's no stretch to believe that yet another horse can win the Grade 2 Sunset Handicap, a 1 1/2-mile turf race at Hollywood on Sunday. There will be some familiar faces. Runaway Dancer, Continuously (second in this race last year), Stanley Park, and T. H. Approval are all expected to knock heads again.

But the time might be right to take a new face. One Off, from the Neil Drysdale barn, has picked the ideal time to come to this country. A son of Breeders' Cup Mile winner Barathea out of an Alleged mare, One Off began his career in Europe and had a sensational 2003. He rattled off four straight wins during the summer in distance handicaps. That big year had him set up for even bigger and better things in 2004.

Ah, but the best laid plans . . .

One Off raced just twice in 2004 and lost badly in both outings. His connections opted for another go in 2005, this time in America. He first surfaced here at Hollywood April 22, in a 1 1/4-mile allowance, and finished willingly to be fourth, beaten less than two lengths by stablemate Always First, who might also run in the Sunset. One Off came back in an 1 3/8-mile allowance and again finished strongly, ending up second to Qsar. He was certainly headed the right way, and in a 1 1/4-mile allowance here June 23 he showed more tactical speed and was right in the thick of it all the way. He had to steady in midstretch while making a threatening move and didn't recover from the incident, finishing second. However, winner Star Pupil was deemed to have interfered with One Off and was disqualified, giving One Off the win.

One Off, 5, is not only a proven distance horse who has shown he can handle this course but also he seemingly is improving with each start. There won't be much pace in the Sunset and his ability to show interest earlier than usual last time gives rider Tyler Baze many options.

Dreamin BC Sprint

Bob Baffert has been out of the limelight of late, having lost a number of prospects to injuries or retirement. But he might have a new star in Woke Up Dreamin, handy winner of the Grade 2 Smile Sprint Handicap at Calder last Sunday.

Woke Up Dreamin has always been lightning-fast early. The problem was staying power. But Woke Up Dreamin is beginning to show signs he's ready top become a top-class, more versatile sprinter.

After two big allowance wins, Woke Up Dreamin ran in the Grade 3 Los Angeles Times at Hollywood May 14. Woke Up Dreamin chased a sizzling pace and finished third to Forest Grove and Areyoutalkintome. His Beyer Speed Figure rose to 104. Next time out, in the Grade 2 True North at Belmont, he dueled through hot splits and drew off to win by two lengths, with a 111 Beyer.

He validated that effort last week at Calder. He broke alertly but was beaten to the lead by a couple sizzlers, which didn't matter. He steadily advanced on the turn, took over going into the lane, and drew off to win with ease. His Beyer was 109 and he probably could have run faster.

Baffert said Woke Up Dreamin will get a break, shoot for one race in the fall, then try the BC Sprint on the same Belmont Park track where he won the True North.

The way he has looked lately, this is no pipe dream, to be sure.