11/06/2003 12:00AM

Veterans get a shot at redemption


ARCADIA, Calif. - Three veterans of the California turf - Continental Red, Native Desert, and Spinelessjellyfish - can salvage lackluster seasons with a victory in Saturday's $175,000 California Cup Mile at Santa Anita.

Each has at least 40 starts and run outstanding races in past California Cups.

Continental Red was second in the 2002 Classic, a year after Native Desert and Spinelessjellyfish finished a head apart in first and second the Mile. Native Desert, a 10-year-old, also won the Mile in 1999.

None of the three has been at his best this year. Native Desert, a winner of 21 of 73 starts and $1.8 million, is winless in seven starts. Spinelessjellyfish, 7, has one win in seven starts, adding little to his lifetime record of 10 wins in 40 starts.

Continental Red has one victory in eight starts - the Quicken Tree Stakes over 1 1/2 miles on turf at Hollywood Park in June. The 2002 California-bred Horse of the Year, Continental Red has won 7 of 54 starts.

All three have shown flashes of their best ability this year, however, giving their connections hope that they can win the Mile.

Continental Red was beaten a head in the Grade 2 Del Mar Handicap over 1 3/8 miles on turf on Aug. 31. He subsequently finished sixth in the Kentucky Cup Turf Handicap at Kentucky Downs on Sept. 20 and fourth in the Carleton Burke Handicap at Santa Anita on Oct. 24.

Despite the proximity of the Burke to the California Cup, trainer Ian Jory and owners Sharon and Wes Fitzpatrick decided to run Continental Red in the Mile.

"We weren't going to run again but we thought we'd give it a shot," said Jory. "The Mile could be a little short. It's not a tough race. Maybe he can get away with it."

Native Desert finished second to Sea to See in the Khaled Stakes at Hollywood Park in April. Native Desert, who won the Khaled Stakes in 2002, is winless in eight starts since winning the Foster City Handicap at Bay Meadows in May 2002.

Sea to See is the biggest threat to the trio of older horses. Trained by Doug O'Neill, Sea to See was claimed for $62,500 in February and has started in California-bred stakes, graded stakes, and claimers through the season. He was third in a $100,000 claiming race Oct. 9 at Santa Anita.

O'Neill has three starters in the 12-horse field of the Mile, including the speedy Menacing Dennis and Blairs General, who won a maiden race for Cal-breds on turf Oct. 16 and is making his first start against winners.

Menacing Dennis has had mixed form around two turns on dirt, and has never run on turf beyond about 6 1/2 furlongs. On the main track, he finished second in the 2002 Snow Chief Stakes at Hollywood Park and was 10th in the Preakness Stakes.

In three starts on turf, Menacing Dennis has not been worse than third, including a third in the Green Flash Handicap over five furlongs at Del Mar on Aug. 20.

A quick pace would help Spinelessjellyfish, who is making his third consecutive appearance in the Mile. He finished second by a neck last year to Turkish Prize.

Even though Spinelessjellyfish has not started since June, he is ready, according to trainer Jenine Sahadi.

"I tried to enter him in allowance races on the hillside, but they didn't fill," Sahadi said. "He's been working great."