05/29/2004 12:00AM

Wanted: The Buddy Gil of old

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INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Buddy Gil, the winner of the 2003 Santa Anita Derby, rebounded from a four-race losing streak to win an allowance race at Santa Anita on April 16.

From trainer Jeff Mullins's perspective, the victory may have jump-started Buddy Gil's career.

"I think those losses kind of broke his heart and he needed something to pick his head up," Mullins said.

Mullins's theory will be tested when Buddy Gil starts as the favorite in Monday's $75,000 Ack Ack Handicap over 7 1/2 furlongs at Hollywood Park.

After the 2003 Santa Anita Derby, Buddy Gil finished sixth in the Kentucky Derby. He emerged from the race with an injury that left him sidelined until the end of the year.

In his first three starts at Santa Anita, Buddy Gil finished ninth in the Malibu Stakes, 10th in the Strub Stakes, and sixth in the Santa Anita Handicap.

"We probably got in a little bit of a hurry with him," Mullins said. "He had a couple of races when he had some trouble."

Turning back from the two-turn mile of Buddy Gil's allowance win to the one turn and 7 1/2 furlongs of the Ack Ack does not concern Mullins. "Shortening up shouldn't be a problem for him," he said. "It depends on which Buddy Gil shows up."

Buddy Gil carries high weight of 122 pounds and faces eight rivals.

His main competition comes from Black Bart, the winner of the Khaled Stakes on turf April 24; Grey Memo, who returns from a three-month retirement in search of his first stakes win in nearly two years; and Smile n Wildcat, winner of an allowance race at Churchill Downs on May 1.

Trained by Doug O'Neill, Smile n Wildcat has won his last two starts. Smile n Wildcat, who may lead in the Ack Ack, drew post 3, with Buddy Gil on the outside.

Choctaw Nation is Gold Cup hopeful

Mullins has a candidate for the $750,000 Hollywood Gold Cup in Choctaw Nation, who remained unbeaten in four starts with a win in an allowance race on Friday night.

Ridden by Victor Espinoza, Choctaw Nation rallied from last of seven to win by three-quarters of a length over Fonz's. Choctaw Nation ran the 1 1/8 miles in 1:48.48.

Unlike in his previous three wins, Choctaw Nation did not rally from a double-digit-length deficit to win going away. He trailed by eight lengths after a quarter-mile and was in fourth on the final turn before taking the lead in the final furlong. Espinoza gave Choctaw Nation a vigorous ride in the stretch to beat Fonz's.

"He hung a little because he's not used to making the lead so soon," Mullins said.

The Gold Cup is run over 1 1/4 miles. Friday's race, a second-condition allowance race, was the longest in Choctaw Nation's career.

Mullins said he would prefer to start Choctaw Nation in another allowance race but realizes that it could be difficult to find one.

Owned by Robert Bone, Choctaw Nation was claimed for $40,000 out of a sprint for maidens at Santa Anita on Feb. 29.

No hiding his emotions

Trainer Nick Hines is easy to find - and hear - whenever his stable wins a race. Just look for the husky guy in the box seats, barreling toward the winner's circle as if he were a football coach running down the sidelines in celebration of a touchdown run.

This week, Hines has done a lot of celebrating.

He had two winners on Wednesday and another on Friday night with the front-running Travel Alarm ($9.80).

In the often stoic world of racing, where some trainers walk into the winner's circle as if they were walking into a supermarket, Hines sometimes seem out of his element. He often uses sports metaphors in conversation, and compares his habits to those of winning coaches.

"There will be those that think it's like unsportsmanlike conduct when you score a touchdown," Hines said of his ebullience after a victory. "This is who I am."

The recent success leaves Hines, 33, with four wins at the meeting, halfway to his pre-meet goal of winning eight races. His public stable has 27 horses, a personal high.

"It's a hard game," he said. "I've lost three photos by a head or a nose. I set a goal for eight wins. Now it looks more feasible. If you had talked to me before Wednesday, I would have said I need a lot of luck to get there."

On Monday, Hines has three starters - Chickamonkey in the first, Any Questions in the third, and Grinding It Out in the sixth. "They're all well spotted," he said.

If one of them wins, Hines won't be hard to find.

"I never want to get used to winning," he said.

Hosco and Siphonizer scratch out of Barrera

Hosco and Siphonizer were withdrawn from Saturday's $150,000 Laz Barrera Memorial Stakes because of illness.

Siphonizer was the 9-5 favorite on the morning-line, while Hosco was 9-2.

Siphonizer "spiked a temperature" on Saturday, trainer Richard Mandella said.

Mandella was hoping to use the seven-furlong Barrera as a prep to the $100,000 Affirmed Handicap over 1 1/16 miles on June 19. He said the illness is likely to leave Siphonizer sidelined for several days, and jeopardizes a start in the Affirmed.

"I don't know whether it will work out or not to go to that race," he said.

Hosco has been turned out for 30 days after developing an illness, O'Neill said.

"We've sent him to the farm," O'Neill said. "He'll get 30 days in the sun pen, and we'll bring him back."

Hosco has been scratched from two stakes at this meeting. He was withdrawn from the Harry Henson Stakes, a turf sprint on April 21, because of illness.

Banged-up Baze takes off a day

Jockey Tyler Baze, third in the standings through Friday with 20 wins, took off his mounts on Saturday after being thrown from a 2-year-old during a morning workout.

Baze said he struck the rail when the horse began the workout after leaving the gate. He is expected to miss only one day.