Updated on 09/16/2011 7:33AM

Three wild cards in Manhattan Beach


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Handicappers are on their own assessing the favorites in the $75,000 Manhattan Beach Stakes on Sunday at Hollywood Park. Three obvious contenders - Fun House, Carinae,

and Oriana's Magic - enter the 5 1/2-furlong turf race with sharp current form, easily understood.

However, three others present a dilemma - Chupa, Ponche De Leona, and Ristra have not raced since last year; their current form is open to speculation. Any of the three could fire first start back, for the field includes no superstars. It is a good spot for a comebacker to make an impact, even if the race is only a prep.

Bob Hess trains Chupa, who won 2 of 6 in France but has not raced since August. Is she ready? "She's ready," Hess said. "Is 5 1/2 too short? Probably not, but a lot will depend on the pace. She'll probably break a little slow, be far back, and come flying. I think a mile will be her best distance."

Oriana's Magic, Ragin T Rex, and Fun House are the speed. Oriana's Magic won a fast dirt allowance May 18, her first start since transferring to trainer David Hofmans. She is 2 for 4, and trying turf for the first time. Fun House returns to the surface over which she has a win and a second. She was burned up on a fast pace three weeks ago in the Grade 3 Railbird, but is not likely to engage in a pace duel Sunday.

Ponche De Leona won 4 of 6 last year, including the Anoakia Stakes, and is returning from a hairline knee fracture. She has worked well, but expectations are modest for her first start back according to trainer Chris Paasch. "I expect her to run really well, but I don't think 5 1/2 is her best distance. This is to get a race into her."

Likewise, comebacker Ristra entered the Manhattan Beach primarily to be educated. She won 1 of 4 in England, and trainer Laura de Seroux said Sunday is "an introduction to American racing. It's a good spot to get her going. There will be enough pace enough pace to sit back and make a run. Hopefully, she'll get a piece of it."

Although the return to grass will benefit presser Fun House, and the fast pace benefits contender Carinae, the Manhattan Beach sets up to be won by Chupa. Oriana's Magic may set the pace, but most turf sprints at Hollywood are won from behind. The profile favors Chupa, poised for an upset first start back.

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