12/06/2007 12:00AM

Rain may diminish Sunriver's chances

Adam Coglianese/NYRA
Trainer Todd Pletcher says Sunriver performs better on firm turf, which he may not get on Saturday in the Hollywood Turf Cup.
INGLEWOOD, Calif. - The lack of success on a rain-soaked turf course may haunt Sunriver in Saturday's $250,000 Hollywood Turf Cup at Hollywood Park.

The Southern California forecast calls for rain on Friday and Saturday, which is likely to lead to the Grade 1 Turf Cup being run on a turf course rated "good" or "soft." Such a surface could pose a problem for Sunriver, who is likely to go favored based on his connections and success in 2007.

A 4-year-old colt, Sunriver is trained by Todd Pletcher, the nation's leading trainer by earnings, and will be ridden by Garrett Gomez, the nation's leading rider by earnings. Owned by Aaron and Marie Jones, Sunriver has won 2 of 5 starts on turf this year, including a victory in the Grade 2 Bowling Green Handicap at Belmont Park in July and a second in the Grade 1 Man o' War Stakes at Belmont in September.

One of his losses was a fourth-place finish, by a length, in the Arlington Million on good turf in August, a worry for Pletcher as Saturday's race approaches.

"He didn't run badly, just not as good as a firm course," Pletcher said. "I am a little concerned if we get a lot of rain."

Sunriver is one of five 2007 group or graded stakes winners in the field. Obrigado won the Grade 2 San Luis Obispo Handicap at Santa Anita in February, but has lost his last five starts. Sudan, an import from Europe, won the Group 1 Gran Premio di Milano in Italy in June. The well-bred Champs Elysees was a Group 3 winner in France in May. Spring House won the Grade 3 Carleton Burke Handicap at the Oak Tree at Santa Anita meeting in October.

After Sunriver won the 2006 Peter Pan Stakes and finished third in the 2006 Belmont Stakes, Pletcher expected him to run in top-class dirt races this year. But after two poor performances on dirt in the spring and an outstanding workout on turf at Belmont in early June, Sunriver was tried in a grass race, winning an allowance convincingly.

"It was night and day," Pletcher said of the difference.

Sunriver was sixth in the Grade 1 Canadian International against a strong field at Woodbine on Oct. 21. He led in early stretch but faded through the final furlong to finish 2o1/2 lengths behind Cloudy's Knight.

"It was a little bit of a puzzle," Pletcher said. "I thought he got a good trip but he leveled off in the last sixteenth."

A softer turf course may benefit some of Sunriver's rivals.

Champs Elysees, a full brother to the champion Banks Hill ($1,824,008), Cacique ($1,462,331), and Intercontinental ($2,052,463), and a half-brother to Heat Haze ($1,183,696), makes his first start for trainer Bobby Frankel.

Owned by Juddmonte Farms, Champs Elysees has won 2 of 11 starts and $260,647, including the Group 3 Prix d'Hedouville at about 1o1/2 miles on soft turf in France in May. He has excelled in turf races at 1 1/2 miles or farther, which are far more commonplace in Europe than the United States.

Champs Elysees has been with Frankel's team since late October.

Spring House, a 5-year-old gelding trained by Julio Canani for former Hollywood Park chairman R.D. Hubbard, ended an eight-race losing streak in the Burke, run at 1 1/2 miles on turf. Spring House won an allowance at Monmouth Park on good turf in 2006 before joining Canani's stable.

Spring House could benefit if Sunriver takes his customary place at the front or if the outsider Tissy Fit shows speed.

"He's got tactical speed," Canani said of Spring House. "He can be third or fourth. He doesn't need a fast pace to do something."

Still, Canani admits that Spring House must improve to be a factor in the Turf Cup.

"Nothing is easy," Canani said. "He's in one piece and he's healthy."