04/04/2006 11:00PM

Unprecedented sweep within Vienna's reach

Trainer Darrell Vienna has a pair of threats in Star Parade (above) for the Apple Blossom and Magnum for the Oaklawn Handicap.

HOT SPRINGS, Ark. - A clean trip might be all Star Parade needs to win the Grade 1, $500,000 Apple Blossom Handicap at Oaklawn Park on Saturday. On top of her game right now, the mare has had anything but smooth sailing in this race the past two years, picking up second money in both 2004 and 2005.

"She's been kind of star-crossed there, so we're hoping that maybe the third time's the charm," said Darrell Vienna, who trains the Southern California-based Star Parade for Gary Tanaka.

Star Parade is one of two starters Vienna will run here Saturday, the first day of the Racing Festival of the South, a series of nine stakes worth $2.8 million over the final week of the meet. Vienna also has Magnum for the Grade 2, $500,000 Oaklawn Handicap, and the two horses, both among the favorites in their races, could make Vienna the first trainer to sweep both major stakes in a single year at Oaklawn.

The 7-year-old Star Parade first came to Hot Springs in 2004, finishing third to Azeri in the Apple Blossom. She was bumped hard by runner-up Wild Spirit turning for home in that race. There was no change to the order of finish immediately following the race. But after Vienna filed an appeal, the Arkansas Racing Commission eventually disqualified Wild Spirit from second to third for interfering with Star Parade.

Star Parade returned for the Apple Blossom last year, and was shuffled back at a key point in the race. She then proceeded to close with fervor to finish second by a neck to wire-to-wire winner Dream of Summer. This year, she comes into another Apple Blossom in peak form, having won the Grade 1 Santa Maria Handicap at Santa Anita in her last start Feb. 11.

"She's running very strongly," said Vienna. "I'm pleased with the way she's doing. Frankly, she's training as well or better than she's ever trained. She's very happy."

Star Parade earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 103 in the Santa Maria, which is the highest last-race number among the anticipated starters in the Apple Blossom. It was the third triple-digit Beyer she has earned in her last five starts, dating back to October, when she finished second by a half-length in the Grade 2 Lady's Secret Breeders' Cup at Santa Anita and earned a 102. Star Parade earned a 104 Beyer in December, when she won the Grade 2 Bayakoa Handicap.

Vienna said he can think of no particular reason why Star Parade has been so sharp since October.

"We've made some adjustments in her diet, but it's hard to attribute anything just to diet," he said.

Star Parade is simply a battle-tested, tough older mare who has rarely missed a check while racing exclusively in graded stakes company since December 2003. She began her career in her native Argentina, and overall has won 8 of 29 starts and $1,085,419.

Magnum, who is owned by Herrick Racing, was also bred in Argentina, and he, too, is coming to Oaklawn in peak form. He won an optional claimer by 5 1/4 lengths on Feb. 12, earning a 106 Beyer. One start later, Magnum was a troubled second to Lava Man by three-quarters of a length in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Handicap on March 4, earning a Beyer of 112.

"I think the race before was a pretty nice race but different company," said Vienna, referring to the optional claiming win, "so I don't think anyone could argue that the last race was the best."

Both Vienna's runners appeared set for their best on Saturday. Now all they need is clear sailing.