11/21/2001 12:00AM

Spook Express takes last shot at title


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - The $500,000 Matriarch Stakes on Sunday at Hollywood Park is the final chance for Spook Express to attract support for an Eclipse Award as the nation's outstanding filly and mare on turf.

Spook Express has three stakes wins this year and a second to Banks Hill in the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf at Belmont Park on Oct. 27. Trainer Tom Skiffington has not given up hope that a win Sunday could give Spook Express the Eclipse.

For Skiffington, this is a familiar situation.

In 1987, the Skiffington-trained Anka Germania won four stakes, including one against males, but lost the female turf title to Miesque, who won the Breeders' Cup Mile.

Skiffington fears voters have made up their minds on the basis of Banks Hill's win by 5 1/2 lengths in the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf. He knows Spook Express must win the Matriarch, and do so impressively, to have any chance at a title.

Skiffington wishes that a horse must be required make at least two starts in this country to be considered for an Eclipse Award. There is a touch of sour grapes in his voice.

"It'd be better off for the fans because they could see the horses more than once," Skiffington said. "To base a championship off one race doesn't seem right."

Run over 1 1/8 miles, the Matriarch will have a strong field. As of Wednesday, there were 15 probables, but the field will be limited to 14 starters. Aside from Spook Express, the probables are Al Desima, Baldwina, Boismorand, Crystal Music, Freefourracing, Gino's Spirits, Golden Apples, Janet, Lethals Lady, Starine, Starrer, Tout Charmant, Tranquility Lake, and Verruma.

Spook Express or Golden Apples, the winner of the Las Palmas Handicap at Santa Anita on Nov. 4, are the expected favorites. Surprisingly, Spook Express has not been favored this year.

"You can't knock her record," Skiffington said. "She won in January and she's still running in November."

Change in workout terms

California horses are not working out any better, though it may appear so until handicappers and horsemen become accustomed to a new style of reporting workouts.

California clockers have adopted a revised policy of recording works. Horses working while under restraint, formerly designated "breezing," are now termed "handily." Conversely, horses working while unrestrained, formerly designated "handily," are now termed "breezing." The modified designation, noted by letters B and H after workout times in past performances, took effect statewide beginning with Tuesday's works.

A restrained work (now called handily) generally is considered superior to an unrestrained workout (now called breezing).

"It's a reverse to what we've always done, and it's going to look different until people get used to it," said Chuck Russell, head clocker at Santa Anita and official Southern California workout reporter for Equibase.

The switch was initiated in northern California by Lafe Bassett, head clocker at Bay Meadows and Golden Gate Fields. According to Bassett, the change "lessens some of the confusion our fans face."

Plenty of Derby candidates

In the summer, owner Paul Reddam and trainer Craig Dollase bought an English import, Momentum, with the goal of starting him in Sunday's $500,000 Hollywood Derby.

As of Wednesday, it was unlikely they would have that chance.

The Hollywood Derby, run over 1 1/8 miles on turf, is limited to 14 starters, but there were 18 pointing for the Grade 1 race. Momentum would not be in the main field because he has not won or placed in a graded or group stakes this year, the criteria that determines qualification.

The probables include Aldebaran, Blue Steller, Bowman Mill, Denon, Homeland, Indygo Shiner, Learing at Kathy, Mizzen Mast, Sea to See, Sligo Bay, Startac, Strategic Partner, Tiger Trap, and Western Pride.

Momentum would gain a berth if one of those come out, because he has the highest earnings of the four hopefuls that have not won or placed in a graded or group stakes. That group includes Irish Warrior, Reduit, and Stormin' Heaven.

"We're on the bubble," Dollase said. "They say it's supposed to rain on Saturday, so maybe someone won't run."

Manndar has surgery

Manndar, the multiple stakes winner who injured an ankle in a turf workout last weekend, underwent surgery to fuse his left ankle on Monday and is recovering at a nearby medical clinic, trainer Beau Greely said.

Greely said Manndar will remain at the clinic until veterinarians say the 5-year-old can safely travel.

"They think it will go well for him," Greely said, citing his veterinarian's opinion. "He's been a good patient."

Greely said Manndar will eventually be sent to Kentucky, but said that no plans have been made on where he will stand at stud.

Stein back on the air

Trainer Roger Stein, whose eight-year run as host of the weekend radio show "Trackside" ended in late September, returns to the AM airwaves Saturday morning on a new station, with a new weekly racing program: "The Roger Stein Show."

Co-hosted by Aaron Hesz, the one-hour show, which airs at 8 a.m. on KPLS 830, will be broadcast at the same time as the racing show that replaced it - "Thoroughbred Weekend" on XTRA 690. The latest show brings to four the number of Los Angeles-area AM radio stations devoting a full hour to horse racing on weekend mornings.

"The Thoroughbred Hot Line," hosted by Felix Taverna, broadasts at 7 a.m. on KOGO 600. Radio shows at 8 are "Thoroughbred Weekend," hosted by Jay Privman of Daily Racing Form, and "The Roger Stein Show." Broadcast at 9 is "Thoroughbred Los Angeles," hosted by Mike Willman and Kurt Hoover, on ESPN 1110.

"Thoroughbred Weekend" began broadcasting Nov. 10, filling the one-hour time slot on XTRA that was vacated when Stein and XTRA met unresolved legal issues. Willman has hosted a weekend racing show since November 1992. Stein's show will be broadcast on Saturday only this weekend, before going to a Saturday-Sunday format.

- additional reporting by Brad Free