11/30/2007 12:00AM

Still upbeat about underachiever

EmailINGLEWOOD, Calif. - Greg's Gold and In Summation will attract most of the attention Sunday afternoon when they lead the field for the $100,000 Vernon Underwood at six furlongs over Hollywood Park's artificial main track, and rightfully so.

The last time they met, In Summation beat Greg's Gold by a nose in the Bing Crosby at Del Mar, a Grade 1 barnburner that had the house of nearly 17,000 rocking to the rafters. It was great sport, and a shame that only one of the two could be declared a winner. Now they are back for more.

The audience for the Underwood will be dramatically smaller, given Hollywood's attendance trends, and the bunch arrayed against the top two is not very scary. But if Bill Currin gets his wish, things could get very interesting long about midstretch, when Bushwacker is still in front and on the engine.

After 22 starts dating back to a Hollywood Park maiden win in November 2004, Bushwacker is still not much more than an entertaining bit player. He has been there or thereabouts in a few small stakes and good for an occasional allowance win when the stars align. But except for a second-place finish to champion Declan's Moon in the 2004 Hollywood Prevue and a third to Bordonaro in the 2006 Sunshine Millions Sprint, Bushwacker has let other members of his generation command the headlines.

This could end in the Underwood, says owner-trainer Currin, "if he can get an easy first quarter - then they might have trouble catching him."

Bushwacker at least has recent form in his corner, coming in fresh from a local wire-to-wire win in a 6o1/2-furlong allowance score on Nov. 10. Joe Talamo was aboard that day and will be back for the Underwood, pleasing Currin to no end.

"He's a cute kid, a natural," Currin said of Talamo, the odds-on favorite for the Eclipse Award as top apprentice of 2007. "He rode this horse quite well. I told him I'd like to adopt him if he wasn't already a millionaire."

The fact that Bushwacker is staying in California this weekend for a race at his home track is nothing less than amazing. Currin received an invitation from the good folks at Delta Downs to bring Bushwacker to bayou country for a race this coming week but - is everyone sitting down - Currin respectfully declined.

This is man-bites-dog news. Britney joins a nunnery. The avuncular Currin has been known to take his horses far and wide - from Dubai to Japan and stops in between - without much more urging than a polite "Y'all come."

"No, I don't turn many down," Currin conceded. "But I thought it might be a good idea this time to stay here and try to get him stakes-placed in a graded race."

The last time Currin shipped for a stakes engagement disaster struck. Last August, he sent 2006 Hollywood Futurity winner Stormello to New Jersey to run against Curlin, Hard Spun, and Any Given Saturday in the $1 million Haskell Invitational. Arrangements were last minute, and there were delays. Upon arriving, the colt suffered a colic attack and had to be hospitalized.

"People don't know how near death he was," Currin said, still shaken by the memory that he nearly lost the best horse he ever raced. "He's retired now and standing at The Vinery in Kentucky, and they love him. They've taken to calling him 'Bill Jr.' "

Currin horses do have their adventures. Bashert, a son of Tiger Ridge who finished second in the 2005 Best Pal Stakes, was among the favorites for the Del Mar Futurity that summer when he flipped over backwards on his way to the saddling paddock. He ran anyway and finished up the track, then did not appear again for a year and a half. In three comeback races this year he never really raised a gallop.

"He had a throat operation that didn't work," Currin said. "He can't breathe, so he's through as a racehorse. I'm hoping to find some nice place for him to stand here in California so I can send some of my mares to him, because he was a awfully fast horse and deserves at least a little chance."

Bushwacker, a son of the Danzig stallion Outflanker, got his bad luck out of the way early. Facing a field that included Declan's Moon, Giacomo, and Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner Wilko in the 2004 Hollywood Futurity, he pulled so hard at Rene Douglas that his saddle slipped, and he had to be eased.

"When something like that happens, you've got to blame the trainer," Currin conceded. "But he's the kind of horse who demands respect, and he has his own mind.

"Maturation has helped him a lot," Currin noted. "The main difference now is how the horse handles himself in the paddock. I switched grooms on him, and rather than manhandling him and holding him with chains, I've taught him to relax, or at least as much as he's going to relax. But one thing's for sure - you never have to urge him."