12/23/2004 12:00AM

Three Valleys big fave back with 3-year-olds

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ARCADIA, Calif. - Three Valleys, who was an outstanding third-place finisher in last month's Grade 1 Citation Handicap in his North American debut, looms as the shortest-priced favorite of the day when he returns to a race exclusively for 3-year-olds in Sunday's $100,000 Sir Beaufort Stakes at Santa Anita.

The Sir Beaufort, the day's seventh race, is one of two supporting stakes on a card topped by the Grade 1 Malibu Stakes. The fourth race, which begins the pick six, is the $125,000 California Breeders' Champion Stakes for 2-year-olds.

The presence of Three Valleys makes an otherwise inscrutable race a potential single for both pick six and pick four players. In the Citation, Three Valleys was facing older horses for the first time, and was coming off a 6 1/2-month layoff. Despite that, and a dawdling early pace, he closed resolutely to finish just 1 1/2 lengths behind his Bobby Frankel-trained stablemate Leroidesanimaux.

Javier Castellano, in to ride Mass Media in the Malibu for Frankel, has the mount on Three Valleys.

Ten others are entered against Three Valleys in the one-mile grass race, including Cozy Guy, the winner of the California Cup Classic, and Forest Grove, a multiple stakes winner on the East Coast who was recently transferred to trainer Eoin Harty.

Cozy Guy has defeated older horses in his last two starts, but has yet to face a colt like Three Valleys. He has finished in the money in all three of his turf races.

Forest Grove captured stakes at Monmouth Park and The Meadowlands this year, but comes off a poor effort in the Commonwealth Turf Stakes last month at Churchill Downs.

"He's training very well," said Alex Hassinger Jr., Harty's assistant. "He came here in great condition."

Like Three Valleys, Salford City is also facing 3-year-olds after meeting older runners in his last two starts. He was a Group 3 stakes winner in Great Britain earlier this year, and finished third in his lone start in this country, which came last month in an optional claiming race at Hollywood. He should improve off that race, according to trainer Patrick Biancone.

"That last race was like a stake," Biancone said. "He needed the race. He ran good. He's back with his friends. He should run better than last time, and he should improve again after that."

Whilly (fourth), Joursanvault (eighth), and Terroplane (13th and last) all exit the Hollywood Derby. They are shortening up from 1 1/4 miles to a mile. Terroplane is coupled in the wagering with Cheiron, who will be racing on turf for the first time.

Cal Breeders' Champion Stakes

Uncle Denny and Lucky J.H., separated by a head and mired in a subsequent disqualification when they last met, renew acquaintances in the $125,000 California Breeders' Champion Stakes over seven furlongs.

Uncle Denny has won both his starts, but needed the disqualification of Lucky J.H. to be placed first in an allowance race at Hollywood Park on Nov. 13. He had a tough trip that day, hopping at the start, then being forced to check sharply when Lucky J.H. ducked in a furlong from the finish. Lucky J.H. is adding blinkers for this race.

Shanghai Joe, Stellar Magic, and Symbolic Gesture - all recent maiden winners and drawn toward the outside of the 10-horse field - are other top contenders.

Shanghai Joe was a narrow loser to Uncle Denny here on Oct. 7, then won at Hollywood Park. He was subsequently purchased privately and turned over to trainer Doug O'Neill.

Stellar Magic won in fast time in his debut at Golden Gate on Nov. 28.

Symbolic Gesture won first time out on Nov. 27 for trainer Julio Canani, whose runners generally improve in their second start.

Generalist and Senor Fango both could improve their recent form now that they are back in against Cal-breds.