07/10/2008 12:00AM

Two Step Salsa gets new test


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Two Step Salsa has been the hottest 3-year-old at Hollywood Park this summer.

Yet, he is something of an unknown factor in Saturday's $350,000 Swaps Stakes, the championship race of the meeting for the division.

The Grade 2 Swaps will be Two Step Salsa's first start over 1 1/8 miles, following wins in the seven-furlong Laz Barrera Memorial Stakes on May 18 and the Affirmed Handicap over 1 1/16 miles on June 15. He won both races by at least three lengths leading throughout, tipping the strategy that jockey Martin Pedroza will employ against five rivals in the Swaps.

Two Step Salsa may be alone on the lead in the Swaps, which could greatly help his chances. Tres Borrachos tried to go with Two Step Salsa in the Affirmed, but settled for second. Tres Borrachos is part of the Swaps field.

The issue that concerns trainer Julio Canani is whether Two Step Salsa can be comfortable on the lead and hold off the multiple stakes winner Colonel John, who will go favored.

"We don't know how he'll handle that," Canani said.

Owned by breeder Jeff Nielsen's Everest Stable, Two Step Salsa began the 2008 season as an unraced maiden. He won his debut at Santa Anita on Jan. 20 and followed with a win in an optional claimer on March 7. His only loss was a second in the Harry Henson Stakes over six furlongs on turf, when he finished 1 1/4 lengths behind Sky Cape.

Despite the loss, Canani was confident at that time that Two Step Salsa could extend his speed. He worked Two Step Salsa seven furlongs on Feb. 22 and 28 and again on March 30 and April 6, and liked the way the colt finished.

"I knew then he would route," Canani said.

Canani resisted the urge to try out-of-town stakes, a decision he thinks has been pivotal in Two Step Salsa's development through the spring.

"The best thing I did was not put him on a plane to Kentucky and Texas," Canani said. "He's really settled down and learned what it's all about."

Walsh ready for Del Mar meet

Trainer Kathy Walsh had her best Del Mar meeting in 2007, winning three stakes. She's won only four stakes at Del Mar in her career, and two were in the Oceanside Stakes on opening day - with Devious Boy in 2003 and Vauquelin last year.

Walsh has the chance for another successful meeting this year. Let Us Prey, a European import, will start in Wednesday's Oceanside on opening day. Vauquelin is being pointed for the $85,000 Wickerr Handicap on turf July 25. In addition, she has a group of 2-year-olds that will make their first starts, although minor injuries have troubled some of them in recent training at Hollywood Park.

"I've got some nice 2-year-olds, but I've had some shin problems," she said.

Last year, Walsh had the leading 2-year-old male at the Del Mar meeting, Georgie Boy, who won the Graduation Stakes for statebreds and the Grade 1 Del Mar Futurity. Georgie Boy is galloping after being given a break this spring, and the Del Mar meeting may end on Sept. 3 before he is ready for a start.

Walsh, typical of her nature, is taking a cautious approach to Let Us Prey's U.S. debut in the Oceanside Stakes, which is run over a mile on turf. Unraced since October, Let Us Prey has worked steadily in recent weeks on Hollywood Park's turf course. In England last year, he was unplaced in two group stakes.

"He'll be a price," she said. "You never know. There are some that come over [from Europe] that get humbled, especially in California."

Let Us Prey was in training with Mike Puhich in the spring and transferred to Walsh in May after Puhich disbanded his stable to take a job at a farm in Washington. Let Us Prey has had five turf workouts since early June.

Thursday, he was part of a group of horses that Walsh sent to Del Mar. He could be part of another notable season for the trainer.

Koriner filly makes debut

Trainer Brian Koriner likes Stormy Gigi's chances when the 2-year-old filly makes her debut in a maiden special weight race over 5 1/2 furlongs Saturday.

Purchased for $370,000 at the Ocala Breeders' Sales Co. sale of 2-year-olds in training in March, Stormy Gigi is owned by Eagle Oak Ranch. She has shown a steady string of workouts for her debut on Saturday as part of a full field. The race has drawn 13 fillies, but only 12 will start.

Koriner said he was drawn to Stormy Gigi because "she had a good stride."

The maiden race has drawn nine first-time starters, including Elle a Gent, who was purchased for $450,000 at the Barretts March sale of 2-year-olds in training. Trained by Eric Guillot, Elle a Gent has worked from the gate in her last three works.