08/01/2006 11:00PM

Two leave tough ones behind

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DEL MAR, Calif. - Considering the competition that El Don and Super Strut have faced in recent starts, they will have a much easier time in Friday's $125,000 California Dreamin' Handicap at Del Mar. The two California-breds have run against some of the toughest horses competing in the state this year.

, who won the Crystal Water Handicap at Santa Anita in March, finished third behind Lava Man in the Khaled Stakes at Hollywood Park on April 30. Lava Man went on to win two Grade 1 races at that meeting.

won the San Matean Handicap at Bay Meadows in his first start of the year in late May and finished fourth behind The Tin Man in the Grade 2 American Handicap at Hollywood Park on July 2. The Tin Man won the Grade 2 San Marcos Stakes at Santa Anita in January and is being pointed for the Arlington Million this month.

El Don and Super Strut share top weight of 120 pounds in the California Dreamin' Handicap, run at 1 1/16 miles on turf for statebreds. The race is being run for the first time on Friday.

The California Dreamin' drew a field of nine and should be run to suit El Don and Super Strut. El Don races just behind the leaders, while Super Strut comes from off the pace. They should be in pursuit of an honest pace, set by Budget Surplus and He's the Rage. Cheroot, second in the Khaled, also races near the front. He won an optional claimer at Hollywood Park last month.

Like El Don, is trained by Marty Jones. Budget Surplus won two allowance races at Hollywood Park earlier this summer. He is making his stakes debut in the California Dreamin'.

"He's sharp right now," Jones said.

Although El Don was beaten three lengths by The Tin Man, Jones was not discouraged.

"He tried to get by The Tin Man a couple of times, but he wasn't good enough," Jones said. "The other horse is a good horse."

Super Strut was scheduled to start at Hollywood Park after the Khaled Stakes but battled a foot problem in June, trainer Craig Dollase said.

"I backed off him a little," Dollase said. "He seems to be training okay. He's well-spotted, I think, off the class angle."

Dollase wanted to work Super Strut on turf last weekend, but the works were canceled because of rain. Instead, Super Strut worked five furlongs on dirt on Sunday.