07/29/2009 12:00AM

Risky to judge Usurp off last


DEL MAR, Calif. - Considering his previous consistency, the last race of Usurp sticks out. Sent off the 6-5 favorite at Hollywood Park following a sharp comeback win earlier in the meet, he struggled to finish fourth in a field of six, the first time he had finished worse than second in seven lifetime starts.

When he comes back in the featured seventh race on Thursday at Del Mar - facing, among others, Silver Stetson Man, who beat him by more than two lengths in that July 12 race - bettors will be confronted with an age-old question: Did he throw in an uncharacteristic stinker, or was it an indication that Usurp is going off form?

Don't rush to judgment just yet. Usurp's trainer, Ron Ellis, takes the blame for the last loss. He says he ran a short horse, and that Usurp will be ready to show his best this time, in a seven-furlong optional claimer that carries a purse of $70,000.

"He ran a huge race off a layoff," Ellis said, referring to Usurp's allowance win on May 14, his first start in more than 10 months. "In between, he was kind of funky coming out of a work. I walked him for about a week, and then I didn't really give him much work. I think he was short. He hadn't run in eight weeks.

"This time, he'll be a tighter horse. He hasn't missed any time since that last race."

Usurp, a homebred raced by Mace and Samantha Siegel, will be making his first start at Del Mar since his debut two summers ago. He finished second that day, and has subsequently finished first or second in every race but his most recent.

"This race looks like it sets up well for him," Ellis said. "He's a tiny little horse I never thought would be this good. He tries his guts out."

Silver Stetson Man was returning from a seven-month layoff on July 12 when he finished third in an excellent effort. In two prior races on Del Mar's Polytrack surface, he won an allowance race in 2007 and last year finished sixth in the Grade 1 Bing Crosby Handicap after a wide trip. He and Usurp should be prominent throughout.

Jiggly invades Southern California after winning three straight at Golden Gate Fields. He has won four straight sprints.

Big Bad Leroybrown beat a slightly softer field at Hollywood Park on July 11 going seven furlongs, his ideal distance. He has won three times in four starts at seven furlongs.

Doppio will try softer company after facing graded stakes sprinters in his last three starts.