06/16/2004 11:00PM

Top choices not without negatives

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INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Twice as Bad is merely a sprinter, and Cheiron is just a California-bred unproven in open stakes. The talented 3-year-olds will try to show that the preconceptions are misconceptions when they compete at 1 1/16 miles in the Grade 3 Affirmed Handicap for 3-year-olds on Saturday at Hollywood Park.

A 13-start veteran, Twice as Bad seeks his first victory beyond seven furlongs. His three-length win May 29 in the Grade 2 Lazaro Barrera is one reason he was assigned top weight of 121 pounds. won the $250,000 Snow Chief Stakes for Cal-breds on April 24, and was assigned 120 pounds.

Bettors who distrust the favorites because of distance and class will find many alternatives in the $100,000 Affirmed. Eight others entered, including graded stakes-placed Capitano, Wimplestiltskin, and O.K. Mikie; and allowance-caliber Boomzeeboom, Hippocrates, Lindero, Coldntight, and Vencer.

The Affirmed is the prep for the $400,000 Swaps Stakes at 1 1/8 miles on July 10, and Twice as Bad has yet to win around two turns. No worries, according to trainer Vladimir Cerin.

"He'll go a mile and a half," he said, citing as reasons "the way he looks, his stride, and in his last work he came home in [34.60]."

Fair enough. Twice as Bad's win in the Barrera was his first start since December, and first since joining Cerin after a moderately successful 2-year-old Florida campaign. Purchased privately by Mercedes Stable, Twice as Bad has won 3 of 13 starts and earned $196,280. Twice as Bad employed an off-the-pace running style last year, and will need versatility Saturday in a race with plenty of speed, including the Cerin-trained front-runner Boomzeeboom.

trained exceptionally well before and after the Barrera, but few local 3-year-olds have been working as well as Cheiron. He overcame trouble to score a workmanlike win in the 1 1/8-mile Snow Chief, and a subsequent freshening paid off.

Trainer Kristin Mulhall said Cheiron "has really matured, he's been working awesome. He thinks he's a beast right now; he thinks he's King Kong. He's going to turn out to be a really nice horse."

He won't have to be a champion to win Saturday, and he might already have answered the class question when he ran fourth in the Grade 2 San Felipe in March. "He bled a five-out-of-five that day, and still ran well," Mulhall said, adding, "we've got the bleeding under control, and he didn't bleed a drop in the Snow Chief."

Cheiron has won three races and $305,880 from nine starts.