05/10/2002 12:00AM

Reliable Bosque Redondo


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - The California handicap division has crumbled. Send in the replacements, whoever they are.

Six modest older horses race 1 1/16 miles Sunday in the Grade 2 Mervyn LeRoy Handicap at Hollywood Park. They seek a $150,000 purse and leadership of a rudderless division. Face it - Tiznow's retirement left a colossal void. It will not be filled Sunday; the Mervyn LeRoy field is mostly sugar.

This is no knock on LeRoy favorite Bosque Redondo, a reliable 5-year-old whose initial graded stakes win last out - a narrow victory in the Grade 2 San Bernardino - looks good on paper. Doubt was cast on San Bernardino form, however, when runner-up Mysterious Cat returned Wednesday to lose a nonwinners-of-two allowance.

The favorite is not the only one under a cloud. Every Mervyn LeRoy starter is flawed, including second choice Sky Jack. He blazed to a Beyer Speed Figure of 122 the last time he raced at Hollywood, but that was 17 months ago. Notwithstanding fast recent works, Sky Jack's two comeback races fall short of his former brilliance. The pace figure he earned in his Feb. 9 comeback was nearly three lengths slower than his best, and he followed with a last-place finish in the Santa Anita Handicap. At age 6, Sky Jack may have lost a step.

The dropoff from the 117-pound co-highweights - Bosque Redondo and Sky Jack - is severe. The other four starters - Bay Head King, Devine Wind, Agol Lack, and Last Parade - are allowance-caliber runners, nothing more. Bay Head King parlayed a soft trip to a half-length win in a nonwinners-of-three allowance last time. The Mervyn LeRoy will be only his 11th career start, so there is upside potential.

Devine Wind has never earned a triple-digit Beyer Figure on dirt; Agol Lack has never earned a pace figure that suggests he will be anywhere close to the lead at any point Sunday; and Last Parade appears to be off form.

The Mervyn LeRoy should be won by Bosque Redondo, a 6-for-13 pro owned and bred by Trudy McCaffery and John Toffan. Trained by Paco Gonzalez, Bosque Redondo has an up-front running style that gives him and jockey Chris McCarron a tactical advantage in a race likely to be run at a tepid pace.

The Mervyn LeRoy is the first in the three-race handicap series at Hollywood. It continues June 15 with the Grade 2 Californian (the next scheduled start for Santa Anita Handicap winner Milwaukee Brew) and culminates July 14 with the Grade 1 Hollywood Gold Cup.

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