12/04/2007 1:00AM

Ravel preps in Native Diver

EmailINGLEWOOD, Calif. - Last winter, the hopes for Ravel included the Santa Anita Derby and then the Kentucky Derby. An injury prevented him from running in either of those races, but he is back, and hopes remain sky high.

Ravel returned from an eight-month layoff with an impressive win in an allowance race at Keeneland on Oct. 12. On Saturday, he will tune up for a planned assault on the Santa Anita winter meeting when he starts in the Native Diver Handicap at Hollywood Park.

Ravel is part of the outstanding group of horses trainer Todd Pletcher has at Hollywood Park. Pletcher will attempt to sweep the stakes races here Saturday. He will send out Sunriver in the Grade 1, $250,000 Hollywood Turf Cup.

Ravel has raced just four times, but has made quite the impression. After defeating maidens in his second start, he stepped into stakes company and scored a powerful victory in the Grade 3 Sham Stakes at Santa Anita in February. That made him one of the nation's leading prospects for the Kentucky Derby, but after the beginnings of a fracture were discovered in his left front cannon bone he did not race again until Oct. 12.

"It just wasn't meant to be," Michael McCarthy, Pletcher's lead assistant at Hollywood Park, said Tuesday morning before taking Ravel over to the paddock for a schooling session. "He's trained very well. It's just a matter of keeping him happy."

Asked if he was glad to get Ravel back for a shot at the Santa Anita Handicap, and perhaps next year's Breeders' Cup Classic, McCarthy said, "Yes," then repeated the word emphatically. "Yes."

"We thought we had some of the best 3-year-olds in the country out here last year, with him, Circular Quay, and Rags to Riches," McCarthy said.

For a Grade 3 race with only a $100,000 purse, the Native Diver is coming up with a deep and strong field. In addition to Ravel, the 1 1/16-mile race is expected to include Arson Squad, Bold Chieftain, Buzzards Bay, Heatseeker, Hello Sunday, Masterpiece, Racketeer, Wanna Runner, and Well Armed.

Ellis hoping for better from 'Buzzards'

Buzzards Bay has taken inconsistency to extremes. When he's good, he's very good, such as when he won the 2006 Oaklawn Handicap with a Beyer Speed Figure of 110. But when he's bad, he's very bad.

Ron Ellis, his trainer, is hoping the good Buzzards Bay shows up Saturday for the Native Diver. Twice in his last three starts, including last month in the All American Handicap at Golden Gate Fields, Buzzards Bay has stopped badly while favored. In between those starts, however, he fought back bravely to win a classified allowance race at Santa Anita during the Oak Tree meeting in October.

So, if he continues that in-and-out pattern, he's due for a good race Saturday.

"I wasn't planning on running him in the Native Diver, but he ran so bad up north I needed to give him another race. It was just too long to wait for the Sunshine Millions," Ellis said Tuesday morning, referring to the Sunshine Millions Classic next month at Santa Anita. "He ran the same type of race at Del Mar. He was breezing to the quarter pole and then he just didn't offer any resistance whatsoever.

"They dug up the track at Golden Gate before he ran," he added. "I can't blame them. The times were fast. I just got caught in the middle. The track up there is great. He came out of the race perfect. I'm hoping he just didn't like it; that it wasn't his type of surface."

Turf Cup: Sunriver vs. Champs Elysees

Like the Native Diver, the Turf Cup also should have a large field, headed by Pletcher-trained Sunriver and Champs Elysees, who will be making his first start in this country for trainer Bobby Frankel.

Champs Elysees had good, though not outstanding, form in Europe, where he most recently finished second in the Group 1 Gran Premio del Jockey Club in Italy. But he has a pedigree with which Frankel is quite familiar. Champs Elysees, 4, is by Danehill and is out of the Kahyasi mare Hasili, who has produced four Grade 1 winners - Banks Hill, Cacique, Heat Haze, and Intercontinental, all of whom Frankel trained.

"I'm hoping this one will be the fifth," Frankel said Tuesday morning. "They're all nice to train, but they don't look alike or anything like that. They're all nice in their races, too, except for Intercontinental. She was difficult."

In addition to Champs Elysees and Sunriver, the field for the 1 1/2-mile Turf Cup is expected to include Chief Running Bear, Heroi do Bafra, Isipingo, Obrigado, Runaway Dancer, Spring House, and Sudan.

Strong allowance race on undercard

Frankel believes Mast Track is ready to fire fresh in Thursday's seventh race, a six-furlong turf sprint that also lured turf sprint specialists Charmvictor, Doppio, and Ever a Friend. Mast Track has won twice in three starts. He has not raced since May.

"He was off a little bit behind, so I gave him time off to get over it," Frankel said. "The only time he got beat, the pace was too slow and the jock took too much hold of him."

Frankel didn't hold a grudge. The jockey was Rafael Bejarano, who rode Mast Track to a victory in his next start, and is back aboard Thursday.

* Colonel John, who won the Real Quiet Stakes last month, worked five furlongs in 1:02.60 at Santa Anita on Tuesday morning in preparation for the Grade 1 CashCall Futurity on Dec. 22.

* Pletcher said Generous Stakes winner The Leopard would skip the Futurity. "We felt it was back a little quick, and he's turned into a pretty nice turf horse," Pletcher said from New York.

* Angel Cordero Jr. worked horses for Pletcher and Frankel on Tuesday morning while taking a working vacation in California en route to Mexico.