01/30/2009 1:00AM

Red Rocks can upset Kip Deville


PHOENIX - If a horse with the constitution of John Henry could travel to the Orient and come back sapped, then it can happen to any horse.

Surely traveling is easier these days, but it's still a concern if you're ready to embrace Kip Deville in Sunday's Grade 1 Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap.

The 2007 Breeders' Cup Mile winner, Kip Deville is every bit the deserving favorite. He was as good or better in 2008 than he was in 2007, winning the Grade 1 Maker's Mark Mile and finishing second to the freak filly Goldikova in the Breeders' Cup Mile. That superb form earned him a shot at the Group 1 Hong Kong Mile Dec. 14 at Sha Tin. He didn't care for the right-handed course, blew the turn, and ended up ninth, well behind Hong Kong's reigning king, Good Ba Ba, who won the race.

Kip Deville is back in the U.S. for owner IEAH and trainer Richard Dutrow Jr., and by all reports is doing well. But you're looking at a very short price on a horse who returns from a brutally tough trip, and does so at 1 1/8 miles, a distance at which he's unproven. When he went 1 1/16 miles in Monmouth's Grade 3 Oceanport he couldn't sustain his run, finishing third. He was off the board in his only 1 1/8-mile race on turf, though he's surely a much better horse now.

It may well be another Breeders' Cup winner who spoils his day. Red Rocks won the 2006 Breeders' Cup Turf at Churchill Down, was third in the 2007 BC Turf, and showed last year he had plenty left in the tank. He spoiled Curlin's turf debut, powering home to win the Grade 1 Man o' War at Belmont last July, leaving Curlin two lengths in his wake.

A third shot at the BC Turf was the plan for Red Rocks. But the horse got sick, missed a couple starts and some training, and while trainer Mark Hennig got him into the gate for the Oct. 25 BC Turf he just wasn't a sharp horse. He stalked the pace and fell apart, finishing 10th of 11.

He's been working super at Payson for Sunday's race. Like Kip Deville, he may have a problem with the distance, but for a different reason. For him, the trip may be too short. But Red Rocks is doing so well that his connections have opted to run here although they could simply have waited another few weeks and gone in the Grade 2 Mac Diarmida at 1 3/8 miles at Gulfstream Feb. 21.

The vibes are positive, and if Red Rocks is ready to get back to his Man o' War form, Kip Deville is in for a fight and then some.

Who's No. 1 out in the West?

Lava Man spoiled us. For three seasons he was the measuring stick for older horses in Southern California. Last year it appeared Heatseeker was ready to take his place, but he was injured and retired.

Now we're looking around for a leader of the local handicap division, about a month before the Grade 1 Santa Anita Handicap on March 7.

Colonel John, last year's Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby and Travers winner, is out with a pulled muscle. Albertus Maximus was to run in Saturday's Grade 1 Donn at Gulfstream before perhaps shipping to Dubai. Bob Black Jack won the Malibu in style, but is hurt. Well Armed hasn't looked the good since he won the Grade 1 Goodwood last fall. Cowboy Cal was game in winning the Grade 2 San Pasqual, but it's a reach to send him shooting up to the top of the list.

Tiago, who won the Grade 2 Oaklawn Handicap last year, is on his way back. Champs Elysees, who rallied well in last year's Big Cap, may again point for the race for Bobby Frankel. Blue Exit recently won an allowance race with authority and could toss his name into the ring, and Gio Ponti's superb Sir Beaufort win stamps him one to watch.

It's a new shooter, though, who bears the most interest. Zambezi Sun, now in Frankel's care, knocked heads with Europe's best. A 5-year-old son of Dansili, he has won 4 of 11 starts, including the 2007 Group 1 Grand Prix de Paris. He was in the thick of the fight against a group whose names read like a European who's who the past year and a half or so: Soldier of Fortune, Dylan Thomas, Youmzain, Doctor Dino, Vision d'Etat, Lawman, and Lucarno. Zambezi Sun's worst start was his last, when he was 15th behind the super filly Zarkava in the Group 1 Arc de Triomphe on Oct. 5.

Frankel has said Zambezi Sun's first U.S. start may come soon, and while the logical spot would be the Grade 2 San Luis Obispo at 1 1/2 miles on the turf here Feb. 22, Frankel also said it could come instead in the Big Cap. If that's the case, maybe we'll then have found the leader.