05/23/2002 11:00PM

They'll be chasing Expression

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INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Speed handicappers may disagree with trainer Jean-Pierre Dupuis, whose 2-year-old Expression dashed 4 1/2 furlongs in 51.36 seconds, fastest of the Hollywood Park spring-summer meet.

"I don't pay much attention to time, the track was pretty fast that day," said Dupuis. So was Expression, and for that reason he will be favored Sunday in the Willard Proctor Memorial Stakes. At five furlongs, the $65,000-added sprint is all about speed and final time. The key to beating Expression? Run faster.

"We ran 52 flat, so we have to improve," said trainer David LaCroix, whose Royal Place won his debut by two lengths. Sudden progress is always expected in 2-year-olds, and five of the eight Proctor entrants are second-time starters: Crowning Dancer, runner-up to Expression; Skipping Stars, third behind Royal Place; and two who race coupled with Skipping Stars - winners Fabulous World and Goodbye Earl.

Expression matured early; Dupuis said the colt by In Excess was "training perfect" back in January. "I didn't push him in the morning, we gave him a race first time," he said. The experience paid off. Second out, Expression improved 23 points, earned an 82 Beyer, and won by a measured length.

"He was just cruising, he was just playing with that other horse," said Dupuis. Expression is the first foal to race out of Dupuis-trained Emerald Express, a speed freak who won an allowance by 11 lengths in 1:09.40, but was hurt and retired after four starts. Expression is owned by Dianne Keith. Brice Blanc rides.

Expression's race was flattered when the fifth-place finisher behind him, Luzern, came back to win his second start. Likewise, Royal Place's debut victory looks better following the subsequent win by the horse he beat. Oberwald returned to win May 18. Royal Place's trainer has only one concern.

"The thing I worry about," said LaCroix, "is he was so professional in his first start that you wonder - how much can he improve?"

Perhaps a lot. The horse Royal Place defeated improved 22 points in his second start. A similar jump by Royal Place projects to a 90 Beyer. Leading jockey Pat Valenzuela rides.

Crowning Dancer also can move up after a wide-trip, strong-finishing debut. Trainer Chris Paasch expects the added half-furlong to benefit Crowning Dancer.

Meanwhile, Paasch eagerly anticipates the upcoming debut of another highly regarded 2-year-old. The Mr. Greeley filly Virginia Miss has been working like a potential star, and will make her debut early next month.

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