12/16/2004 1:00AM

Shirreffs looks to spring two surprises

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Benoit & Associates
Hollywood Story, Victor Espinoza up, scores an upset for trainer John Shirreffs in the Bayakoa Handicap. Shirreffs sends Giacomo in Saturday's Futurity and Kenza in Sunday's Starlet.

INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Trainer John Shirreffs played the role of upsetter last weekend, when Hollywood Story won the Grade 2 Bayakoa Handicap at Hollywood Park.

This weekend, Shirreffs will have the same role in lucrative races over 1 1/16 miles when Giacomo starts in Saturday's $449,500 and Kenza runs in Sunday's $300,000-estimated Hollywood Starlet. Both horses are owned by Jerry and Ann Moss.

Both starters deserve respect, particularly Kenza, who placed third in a division of the Miesque Stakes on turf last month.

Last year, Hollywood Story won the Starlet as a maiden, emphasizing the unpredictability of late-season races for juveniles.

"It's 2-year-olds, and that's always a factor," Shirreffs said.

Of the two, Giacomo faces a tougher field, going against three 2-year-olds - Declan's Moon, Proud Accolade, and Wilko - each of whom can clinch the Eclipse Award with a win in the Futurity.

Giacomo is making his stakes debut, but is coming off a productive allowance race here Nov. 14. The winner of the race, Texcess, returned to win the $1 million Delta Jackpot Stakes, and the runner-up, Chips Are Down, returned to win an allowance race. Giacomo finished two lengths behind Texcess.

"It was one of those tracks with a big speed bias," Shirreffs said. "He was closing at the end."

The stable had two candidates for the Starlet until owner Marty Wygod said that Revealed, the winner of a maiden race Nov. 21, would not start. Wygod said he was concerned about the recent rash of breakdowns on the Hollywood Park main track. "It made me nervous," he said.

Kenza has never won on the main track. She scored a one-length win in a maiden race over a mile here Nov. 10 and returned 16 days later to finish a game third in the Miesque.

"We ran on the turf because she comes from off the pace," Shirreffs said. "That was the tough half of that stakes."

The Starlet lacks a standout. The top contenders are No Bull Baby, the winner of the Moccasin Stakes on Nov. 21; Splendid Blended, who was second in the Grade 2 Oak Leaf Stakes in October; and Sharp Lisa, who was second in the Alcibiades Stakes at Keeneland in October.

No Bull Baby and Splendid Blended are likely to be near the front, which would help Kenza. Still, Shirreffs said he is worried that Hollywood Park's racetrack will play kind to speed, resulting in a race shape that some trainers have compared to a conga line.

"It's a question of how the race sets up and how the track is playing," Shirreffs said.

Kenza, Giacomo, and Revealed give Shirreffs a strong core of 3-year-olds for 2005.

Plus, Hollywood Story, who races for George Krikorian, is being pointed for the $150,000 El Encino Stakes on Jan. 16 and the $200,000 La Canada Stakes on Feb. 12 at Santa Anita. Both races are restricted to 4-year-old fillies, and in the Bayakoa, Hollywood Story beat older fillies and mares.

"She's one of those few 3-year-olds to beat older horses," Shirreffs said. "Mentally, she's very tough."

Bray moves to TVG booth full time

Simon Bray, who trained the Grade 1 winners Astra and Startac, has disbanded his 15-horse public stable to take a full-time position as a commentator for the TVG network. Bray, 35, has worked on TVG on a part-time basis for the last eight months. He began his full-time position Thursday.

A former assistant to Bill Mott, Bray became a private trainer for Allen and Madeleine Paulson in April 1999. Over the next year, the stable won stakes with Astra, Cali, and Mary Kies.

Allen Paulson died in July 2000. In 2001, Bray was dismissed as trainer of the horses held by the Allen Paulson Family Trust, a group that included Astra, who won the Beverly Hills Handicap, and Startac, who won the Secretariat Stakes.

Bray continued to train horses owned separately by Madeleine Paulson, but the stable did not have the same success. Bray won seven races in 2003 and had four wins this year.

"I had some good clients, but never had the good horses," Bray said.

Imperialism may be headed to Malibu

Imperialism, third in the Hollywood Derby last month and the Kentucky Derby earlier this year, may start in the $250,000 Malibu Stakes over seven furlongs on Dec. 26, trainer Kristin Mulhall said.

Imperialism worked five furlongs in 1:00.80 at Hollywood Park on Thursday. Mulhall said Imperialism could start in the $100,000 Sir Beaufort Stakes over a mile on turf on Dec. 26. If that happens, Cheiron, who won the $250,000 Snow Chief Stakes for statebred 3-year-olds in April, could run in the Malibu for Mulhall.

Imperialism has proven to be effective in sprints, having won the San Vicente Stakes over seven furlongs at Santa Anita in February.

The Malibu is likely to have a large field. The candidates include Action This Day, Areyoutalkintome, Castledale, Harvard Avenue, Minister Eric, Quintons Gold Rush, Perfect Moon, Pomeroy, Rock Hard Ten, Saratoga County, Spellbinder, and Stone Rain.

Castledale won the Santa Anita Derby in April, but has not started since finishing 14th in the Kentucky Derby. He emerged from a workout this week with a touch of mucus, according to co-owner Frank Lyons. A decision on whether Castledale will be entered for the Malibu will be made after his next workout, Lyons said. Jeff Mullins trains Castledale.

Espinoza loses suspension appeal

Jockey Victor Espinoza will serve a seven-day suspension at the start of the Santa Anita meeting after losing an appeal of a suspension issued at Santa Anita last March.

Espinoza appealed the decision to an administrative law judge, who agreed with the original decision of the Santa Anita stewards. The California Horse Racing Board recently voted to uphold the decision of the judge.

The suspension begins Dec. 26 and continues for seven racing days, through Jan. 2.

The suspension does not prohibit Espinoza from riding in designated races, or graded stakes races, during the suspension.

* The Hollywood Park fall meeting ends Monday with a program highlighted by the $150,000 Dahlia Handicap over 1 1/16 miles on turf. Belleski, who has won three consecutive starts, is the 120-pound topweight. Hoh Buzzard (1:00.20) and Paz Ciudadana (1:02.40), both of whom are scheduled to run in the Dahlia Handicap, worked five furlongs at Santa Anita on Wednesday morning.

* Frankel said sprint star Midas Eyes will stretch out to 1 1/8 miles to chase the $1 million prize in the Sunshine Millions Classic next month at Gulfstream Park. Midas Eyes is spending the winter with Frankel's Florida string.

- additional reporting by Jay Privman