06/30/2004 12:00AM

Pellegrino seeking a stakes shot

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INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Pellegrino and Murano form a formidable entry in a $54,000 optional claimer on turf at Hollywood Park on Friday evening.

For Pellegrino, trained by Don Burke, the 1 1/2-mile race could serve as a prep for the Escondido Handicap at Del Mar on Aug. 4.

A winner of 2 of 11 starts, Pellegrino placed in three Group 1 races in Argentina in late 2002, including the Argentine Derby. He was sent to Dubai in early 2003 but did not start there because of illness, Burke said.

"He got sick and almost died," Burke said. "It was dicey there for a little while."

joined Burke's stable last year and made his U.S. debut in January. Pellegrino has started five times in this country and has shown improvement in his most recent races, winning a first-condition allowance race over 1 1/4 miles on turf on May 2 and finishing a game second to Leprechaun Kid in an optional claimer May 27.

"He was behind a slow pace and that killed him," Burke said of the last race.

Pellegrino has run in three races at 1 1/2 miles or farther, including third-place finishes in the 2002 Carlos Pellegrini Stakes in Argentina and an optional claimer at Santa Anita in March.

Gary Tanaka owns Pellegrino and Murano, but they are from different barns. Julio Canani trains Murano, who was a troubled fifth behind Leprechaun Kid on May 27.

is one of two horses entered Friday to be claimed for $80,000. Gallant, third behind Leprechaun Kid on May 27, is the other.

Gulchie, Right Proof, and Sheikh Fever complete the field.

Gulchie has not started since finishing fifth in a similar field last October at Santa Anita. He was second in four consecutive turf races last year.

Right Proof was withdrawn from Tuesday's Barretts sale of horses of racing age. Trained by Neil Drysdale, Right Proof, 4, was sixth in the Jim Murray Memorial Handicap over 1 1/2 miles on turf on May 8 in his stakes debut. Sent off at 31-1, Right Proof led to early stretch but was beaten 5 3/4 lengths by Rhythm Mad.

Sheikh Fever is the only member of the field coming off a win. Trained by Nick Hines for Jerry Jamgotchian, Sheikh Fever won an allowance race over 1 1/4 miles on turf on May 26. Friday's race marks his first appearance at 12 furlongs.