06/21/2006 11:00PM

Solving puzzles equine and legal


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Now that he has exhausted the markets of places like England, Ireland and Argentina, turning modestly priced runners into California gold, it appears as if trainer Darrell Vienna is opening up a whole new territory. How else does he explain the presence of the 6-year-old Peruvian mare Immortalite in the Beverly Hills Handicap at Hollywood Park on Saturday? That's right, Peru.

"I didn't go there," Vienna confessed. "The owners asked if I would like to train her, and I said yes. I can tell you that she has probably run better races down there than she has here so far."

After two decent tries at Santa Anita earlier this year, Immortalite is still looking for her first California victory for owners Will Schwartz and Boris Schwartzman. The Beverly Hills would be an ambitious place to make her first winning splash, since she will be facing an international field that includes Eternal Melody of New Zealand, Live Life of France, Sohgol of Ireland, Dalicia of Germany, and stablemate Cissy of Argentina.

Immortalite has done most of her racing at Monterrico Racecourse, in the city of the same name, located at an elevation of more than 4,000 feet in the Peruvian Andes. If nothing else, she must have strong lungs.

She also has a tendency to lean right on a left-handed course, which is hardly the fastest way home. This habit has been Vienna's main challenge since Immortalite came into his care last December.

"It looks like she's been doing it for quite some time," Vienna said. "I saw all the films from Peru, as well as her Pelligrini - and in that race, if there were 50 paths, that's how wide she was. They have to really pan back to keep her in the picture."

Immortalite's record of 6 wins in 16 South American starts looks good on paper, and she was voted champion filly for the 2003-04 Peruvian season. But it was her performance in that 2005 Carlos Pelligrini last December that verified her class. Roughly the equivalent of a South American Arc de Triomphe, the Pelligrini is 1 1/2 miles on turf for all comers. Immortalite finished fifth of 20 starters, beaten eight lengths by the close one-two finishers Storm Mayor and Forty Licks.

"In her races here she's been drifting out, and the lateral movement takes away from her forward progress," Vienna said. "We've tried different bits, different blinkers, different approaches. Lately, she has been showing some improvement."

Jose Valdivia, a native of Lima, Peru, has been aboard Immortalite both morning and afternoon since she came to the States. He will be aboard again for Vienna on Saturday.

"Jose knows the owners, and he's played a part in getting her straightened out," Vienna said. "Now, if she can run in a straight line on Saturday, I think we've got a chance."

Cissy, owned by E.A. Ranches, gives Vienna a respectable one-two punch in the Beverly Hills. Her South American form is not as noteworthy as Immortalite's, but her California grass races have been promising. The best of them was a third-place finish to Sharp Lisa in the 10-furlong Santa Barbara Handicap at Santa Anita. In her last race, at 1 1/4 miles on the Hollywood grass, she was close to a slow pace under David Flores and faded to finish a distant fourth to Beverly Hills opponent Live Life.

"I think she wants to be ridden a little differently than she was that day," Vienna said. "I really think she needs to wait - even when there's no pace."

Aside from his stable, which is having a pretty good year, Vienna made news of his own recently when he accepted a challenge to put his law degree at work on behalf of the California Horse Racing Board as a legal consultant.

Vienna's first task sounds like heavy lifting. He has been combing through the California racing rule book, "reconciling it with itself, with horse racing law, and with government codes," as Vienna described it.

"Just to give you an example," he said, "there is one section of the rules that says there is no advertising on jockeys' silks, and then a new regulation - without cancelling the old one - that says under certain circumstances you can have advertising."

The best-case scenario would be for Vienna's work not only to help simplify the tangled web of California's racing rules and regulations, but also to save the state's racing board the thousands of dollars it spends each year on deputy attorneys general from the state justice department to represent the board in complex drug violations and lengthy appeals.

Not surprisingly, Vienna had to deal with questions of conflict of interest, since he is an active trainer and also has represented numerous licensees before the stewards as attorney.

"The board initially wanted me to give them input about specific cases," Vienna said. "I thought it was inappropriate. As a licensee it could be perceived that I could be biased. Secondly, most of the people involved would probably have been my clients, and I once I've represented them I have duties to them that continue.

"Then there are a few people who thought I was going to get all sorts of inside medication information," Vienna added with a dry chuckle. "Well, so far I haven't. So far, it's not the exciting job that some people thought it would be."