11/28/2003 12:00AM

Watchem Smokey: It's all gravy now

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INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Watchem Smokey did not seem to be a potential graded stakes winner when he was knocking out victories in claiming races at Louisiana Downs and Oaklawn Park early in his career.

But seven months after he was available for a $30,000 claiming price at Oaklawn Park, Watchem Smokey has become a multiple stakes winner and a win candidate for what could be an outstanding running of the $250,000 Malibu Stakes at Santa Anita on Dec. 26.

On Thursday, Watchem Smokey won the Grade 3 Vernon Underwood Stakes at Hollywood Park, a race that confirmed the potential that new owner Edmund Gann and trainer Bobby Frankel hoped to see from this gelding when he was acquired in late summer.

"It would have been fine if he would just be a sprinter, but he might go on," Frankel said.

Watchem Smokey won the six-furlong Underwood by a length over Our New Recruit, who set the early pace. Watchem Smokey was fourth early and reached contention in mid-stretch.

He gave Julie Krone consecutive wins in the Underwood. Last year, she won aboard the longshot Debonair Joe, who returned to win the Malibu.

"I just hand rode him the last 70 yards," Krone said of Watchem Smokey.

The Malibu is for 3-year-olds at seven furlongs and might draw an outstanding field. The candidates include Cajun Beat, the winner of the Breeders' Cup Sprint; Posse, who won his fourth stakes of 2003 in Thursday's Thanksgiving Handicap at Fair Grounds; and Buddy Gil, the winner of the Santa Anita Derby.

Baltic Heights, Eugene's Third Son, Marino Marini, and Zavata are other candidates.

Guaranteed $1 million pick six

Sunday's pick six at Hollywood Park features a guaranteed pool of $1 million.

The bet covers the fifth through 10th races, a sequence that includes a sprint for cheap claimers; the $500,000 Matriarch Stakes over a mile on turf; a maiden race for 2-year-olds over 6 1/2 furlongs; an allowance race on the main track; the $600,000 Hollywood Derby; and a maiden claimer for statebreds.

The biggest puzzles are the Matriarch and the Hollywood Derby, which both have 14-horse fields.

The seventh race, for 2-year-old maidens, will force bettors to spread their selections.

The first-time starters Erewhon and Turnbolt have worked well. Wally Dollase trains Erewhon, who breaks from the rail. Erewhon, by Kingmambo, has shown a series of quick works in recent weeks.

Turnbolt cost owner B. Wayne Hughes $550,000 at the Fasig-Tipton Florida 2-year-olds' in training sale last February. By Deputy Minister, Turnbolt is trained by Ron Ellis and has had fast six-furlong workouts at Santa Anita in recent weeks.

They must beat Dwango and Wimbledon, who have shown erratic form.

Dwango finished seventh in his debut at Santa Anita on Oct. 24, but rebounded to finish second to the highly regarded St. Averil Nov. 9.

Wimbledon, who cost owner Jim McIngvale $425,000 at the same sale at which Turnbolt was bought, finished fifth as part of a favored entry at Del Mar on Aug. 2, his only start.

Will Europe notice Oaks upgrade?

The $750,000 American Oaks, run each July at Hollywood Park, was designated as a Grade 1 for 2004 race by the American Graded Stakes Committee last week. The promotion has Hollywood Park racing secretary Martin Panza hoping the race will gain greater attention worldwide.

The 2004 Oaks, for 3-year-old fillies, will be run on July 3 next year over 1 1/4 miles on turf.

"The Grade 1 status will help in getting horses from Europe," Panza said. "This is so gratifying that we were able to find a niche."

The Oaks has been run twice, and was won each time by a European import who did not run in that continent's top races, such as the English and French Oaks.

In the first running in 2002, Megahertz was promoted from second to first after being fouled in the stretch by European import Dublino. Megahertz began her career in France and had been with trainer Bobby Frankel in the U.S. for six months prior to the Oaks.

Earlier this year, the Irish invader Dimitrova dominated 13 rivals to win the Oaks.

Everybody wanted Words in Poetry

Words in Poetry, the subject of 21 claims on Wednesday, is likely to be retired and bred next year. Owner Robert Bone and trainer Mike Puype won the shake for the 3-year-old filly, who finished fourth for $12,500 after dropping from the $40,000 level. A $250,000 yearling purchase, Words in Poetry was previously owned by The Thoroughbred Corp. and trained by Bob Baffert.

Words in Poetry is a half-sister to stakes winners Dancing Deputy and Dancing Water, a winner of $197,401.

* After losing with his first seven starters at the meeting, trainer Nick Canani's stable rebounded with three winners in as many days from Wednesday through Friday. In Friday's second race, Canani won a maiden claimer for sprinters with Wackman ($8.80).