11/24/2006 12:00AM

Turf festival has tempting options

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PHOENIX - I really missed Hollywood's Turf Festival last year, and I'm sure I'm not alone. Last year's festival was lost when the turf course was deemed unsuitable, and there was no turf racing during the fall meet.

The turf festival is back, and that means grass racing of the highest quality, and Sunday's two Grade 1 stakes don't figure to disappoint. The Hollywood Derby routinely points out top-class 3-year-old turf runners who bear watching the following year in all the big turf races. The Matriarch attracts some of the best fillies and mares, including those who would have found the 1 3/8 miles of the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf beyond their scope.

Hollywood Derby

There is no doubt that Showing Up is the horse to beat. He has been nothing short of sensational, and there are many, myself included, who would have envisioned him as one of the major players in either the Breeders' Cup Mile or Turf. His connections, however, wisely didn't want to ask him for too much too soon. He has handled several different courses, and he hasn't just been winning, he's been romping.

That being said, there are two very intriguing options if you don't want what figures to be a short price on Showing Up. Dark Islander shipped in from Europe for the Grade 2 Oak Tree Derby. He had shown ability overseas, but had yet to look top-class - that is, until he showed up Stateside. His connections figured he probably wanted footing firmer than he would ever see in Europe, and based on his monster Oak Tree Derby performance they were spot-on. He sat back early, swung out into the lane and just blew the doors off his rivals with a sensational final three furlongs. He faces stronger opposition on Sunday.

The most interesting entrant in the derby may be European import Ivan Denisovich. A 3-year-old from the Coolmore-Aidan O'Brien operation, he was penciled in for the BC Mile earlier this month but failed to get into the race. That may have been a blessing in disguise. While he has spent the majority of his time going a mile, he may actually be better at the 1 1/8 miles of the derby, and he gets to face only 3-years-olds here.

Ivan Denisovich has faced Showing Up before, finishing second to him in the Grade 1 Secretariat at Arlington in August. But he had a terrible start that day and was left with too much to do, so that was a good effort considering he was beaten only 1 1/2 lengths by Showing Up, who was geared down in the final yards.

Ivan Denisovich went back to Ireland and promptly won a listed stakes before being no factor against the best milers in Europe in the Group 1 Queen Elizabeth. He figures to be a tempting price here.

Matriarch

This year's renewal looks like a terrific wagering race, particularly since there doesn't appear to be any standouts.

Back in the spring, a 3-year-old filly named Attima shipped in from France for trainer Julio Canani and made a grand impression. She romped in a first-level allowance race at Hollywood on May 10, her first start in the United States and first action of any kind in seven months. She backed it up with another easy win, this time in the Grade 2 Honeymoon Handicap at Hollywood on June 4.

She found the combination of 10 furlongs, Wait a While, and Japanese star Asahi Rising far too much to handle in the Grade 1 American Oaks, but came right back to win Del Mar's Grade 2 San Clemente - at her favorite distance, a mile - July 29 to show she was back on track. Again she tried longer, the 1 1/8-mile Grade 1 Del Mar Oaks, but after surging to the lead in midstretch, she couldn't sustain her run and finished fifth.

Canani has given her three months between races and specifically targeted this race, knowing full well she loves the course and is at her best at this mile distance. She has worked well the past month, and few trainers are as good at cranking up a horse for a specific target as Canani. Her odds figure to be generous enough that maybe you can pay for that early Christmas shopping right here and now.