12/05/2002 1:00AM

Rare three-peat potential


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Men's Exclusive can earn a place in Hollywood Park history with a win in Saturday's $100,000 Vernon Underwood Stakes.

Since the fall meeting began in 1981, only one horse has won three consecutive runnings of a major stakes - Flawlessly, who took the Matriarch Stakes from 1991-93. On Saturday, Men's Exclusive will try for an unprecedented third consecutive win in the six-furlong Underwood.

The 9-year-old Men's Exclusive has not won since the 2001 Underwood, covering a span of six races on five racetracks. Most recently, he finished a well-beaten second in the Bull Dog Stakes at the Big Fresno Fair on Oct. 13. Despite Men's Exclusive losing such a modest race, trainer Wesley Ward is convinced his runner can be competitive in the Underwood.

"My old guy is a trier," Ward said.

Men's Exclusive drew the rail in the Underwood, which attracted nine entrants. Only Mellow Fellow is a stakes winner this year, having won three stakes in northern California during a six-race winning streak.

Since being acquired by Sid and Jenny Craig in May and turned over to trainer Bill Spawr, Mellow Fellow has yet to win in four starts, but has placed in three graded stakes.

Men's Exclusive can lead or stalk the pace, depending on how the race unfolds. With his position on the rail, and little speed directly to his outside, jockey Martin Pedroza is likely to take a prominent position early to avoid traffic problems on the backstretch.

Aside from Mellow Fellow, who has not started since finishing third in the Ancient Title Breeders' Cup Handicap at Santa Anita on Oct. 5, the top obstacle to Men's Exclusive's quest is American System.

Trained by Eduardo Inda, American System has finished first in his last three starts, but was disqualified and placed third in an optional claimer at Santa Anita on Oct. 5 after bothering a rival in the final furlong. The 3-year-old American System returned to win an optional claimer by a convincing 3 1/2 lengths at Santa Anita on Oct. 27.

"The last two races have been good, even when he was disqualified," Inda said. "This is a good spot to run. He's training up to it very good."

Inda would like the Underwood Stakes to serve as a prep to the $200,000 Malibu Stakes at Santa Anita on Dec. 26.

"He relaxes and he finishes good now," Inda said. "I feel good about this because we don't have to be on the lead."

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