07/11/2004 11:00PM

Total Impact finally puts it together

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Running through the stretch the first time in Saturday's 1 1/4-mile Hollywood Gold Cup, Yessirgeneralsir leads the gray Royal Moro, with eventual winner Total Impact on the inside in third.

INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Until his upset win in Saturday's $750,000 Hollywood Gold Cup, Total Impact had more layoffs caused by injury than stakes wins since arriving in the United States nearly three years ago.

A fractured tibia in 2002 and soreness in his front legs last year kept Total Impact from reaching his potential. "It's been an exercise in patience," said trainer Laura de Seroux.

This year, Total Impact has been a mainstay in California's handicap division and turned in a breakthrough performance in the Grade 1 Gold Cup.

With division leaders Pleasantly Perfect and Southern Image waiting for Del Mar and the $1 million Pacific Classic on Aug. 22, Total Impact ran the race of his life and earned a 108 Beyer Speed Figure for the 1 1/4 miles of the Gold Cup. Dismissed at odds of 6-1, he rallied on the inside in early stretch to win by 1 1/4 lengths over Olmodavor. Even the Score, the 7-10 favorite, finished third.

For de Seroux, the victory was her richest since Azeri won the $2 million Breeders' Cup Distaff at Arlington Park in 2002. De Seroux trained Azeri to the 2002 Horse of the Year title and championships in the older female division in 2002 and 2003. Along the way, Azeri won 11 consecutive races.

Last fall, de Seroux recommended that Azeri be retired because of a tendon injury. Two months later, owner Michael Paulson put Azeri back in training but sent her to trainer D. Wayne Lukas.

During the time that Azeri was de Seroux's stable star, Total Impact was regarded as a horse with a future. De Seroux and owners Sultan Mohammed al Kabeer and Liliana Solari did not think it would take until the summer of 2004 to be proven correct.

While the Gold Cup did not draw a strong field, Total Impact, a 6-year-old Chillean-bred horse by Stuka, served notice that he will be a factor in other major stakes.

De Seroux watched the race from her home in San Diego County, sending assistant Jeff Ford to Hollywood Park a few days in advance to exercise Total Impact and saddle the horse on race day.

De Seroux said she stayed behind to handle affairs at her stable at San Luis Rey Downs and spent Saturday afternoon watching races from around the nation.

"I wasn't playing tennis," she said.

Total Impact scored his third stakes win in the Gold Cup. He won a Group 1 in Chile in June 2001 before launching his American career in early 2002.

After one prep race at Santa Anita, Total Impact finished second in the $2 million UAE Derby in Dubai, leading in the final furlong before being caught by Essence of Dubai. Later that year, the injury to his tibia - the bone between the hip and hock of a horse's rear leg - was diagnosed.

Total Impact's career seemed back on the upswing when he won the Grade 2 Mervyn LeRoy Handicap in May 2003, but he was sidelined for seven months after that race due to soreness.

"All it required was time to settle down," de Seroux said. "If you don't do that, they're sore and run bad. All you have to do is give them 60 or 90 days. Most of the time it doesn't come back."

Since his return last December, Total Impact had run only in stakes, including second- or third-place finishes in four races.

The Gold Cup win will heighten expectations for his next starts.

Next up is the Pacific Classic, which may be one of the top races of the year for older horses.

Among the top candidates are Pleasantly Perfect, the winner of the 2003 Breeders' Cup Classic and Dubai World Cup in March, and Southern Image, the winner of the Santa Anita Handicap and Pimlico Special this year.

A win against either of those two would be unexpected for Total Impact. But De Seroux says she wants to take a chance.

"He's a Grade 1 winner now," she said. "I'd be happy with a placing in the Pacific Classic. The mile and a quarter is the main thing, and that's where the money is."