02/20/2009 12:00AM

Will this script have surprise ending?


ARCADIA, Calif. - It's curtain time again for the West Coast troupe of interchangeable turf players, a solid band of honest performers who take turns tackling the leading role while waiting for Matt Damon or Daniel Craig to come along and send the rest of them back to the chorus.

Stop me if you heard this before. On Sunday, in the $150,000 San Luis Obispo Handicap at Santa Anita, the entrants includes Medici Code, Church Service, Artiste Royal, Marsh Side, Champs Elysees, and the two most recent winners of the 1 1/2-mile race, Spring House and Obrigado. This bunch has tangled so often they know each others' lip tattoos by heart.

Like the Southwest Division of the NBA, parity rules. Champs Elysees beat Obrigado and Church Service in the Hollywood Turf Cup, but lost to Artiste Royal in the Whittingham. Artiste Royal beat Medici Code in the recent San Marcos, but only by a nose, and Spring House was less than two lengths behind. In last year's San Luis Obispo, Spring House and Church Service ran one-two. You get the idea.

Party crashers are welcome, though, just to spice things up, and Sunday's field will feature three interesting runners who have never before traded blows with the recurring cast.

Zambezi Sun is another one of those fugitives from the Juddmonte Farms European wars, a Group 2 race winner now trained by Bobby Frankel and related to a dozen or so major stakes winners. Zambezi Sun has not run since being tossed into the fire against Zarkava in the Arc de Triomphe last October, but chances are he has gotten over it.

On Fire was last seen in action barely three weeks ago at Gulfstream Park. A son of Pulpit, out of a half-sister to Inside Information, On Fire to that point had had won just 1 of 11 starts while racing for Hall of Famer Shug McGaughey and Jockey Club chairman Ogden Mills Phipps. Team Green and trainer Barry Abrams bought him, with the help of agent Eugenio Colombo.

"He's a nice horse, and he'll like a mile and a half," McGaughey said Friday morning from Florida. "He just ran second here in two allowance races and they ran fast. Did I want to give him up? Not especially. But the Phipps stable isn't exactly built around 5-year-old geldings. We've got 28 2-year-olds I've got to make room for, so sometimes a horse like this has got to go his own way."

Then there is Kris Silver, a $40,000 claim who races for film producer Jim Wilson, trains for Rafael Becera, and runs pretty good for Tyler Baze. Kris Silver is stepping up on Sunday after two straight front-running wins in $50,000 claiming company and stretching out to 1 1/2 miles for the first time in his life. Other than that, no sweat.

"Scary, huh?" said Wilson, a lifelong racing enthusiast who won a Best Picture Oscar for "Dances With Wolves" in 1990. "I think I'll take some abuse on this, but what the hell."

What the hell indeed. Stranger things have happened. Check that - the exact same things have happened, and recently. On the Acorn, a $40,000 claim, won the 2007 San Juan Capistrano and the 2008 Jim Murray Handicap. Boule d'Or, a $50,000 claim, won the 2008 San Luis Rey over the same course and distance as the San Luis Rey. Just last month, the $50,000 claim Tizfiz took the San Gorgonio.

If nothing else, Kris Silver offers the best game-day story, which should be no surprise. Wilson, along with his filmmaking partner Kevin Costner, produced "The Bodyguard" and "Message in a Bottle," as well as the more recent "Mr. Brooks" and "Swing Vote." On Sunday, instead of attending the Academy Awards in Los Angeles, Wilson is taking advantage of the San Luis Obispo to celebrate the 80th birthday of his mother, Petrie Wilson, whose first visit to Santa Anita was in 1937.

"Her father ran Dean Witter and did a lot of fund-raising for the Santa Anita foundation," Wilson said. "He served on the board and was a good friend of Dr. Strub. Some of mom's best early memories were of her trips to Santa Anita."

Apparently, there is a Wilson family tradition. Forty years ago, Wilson's father surprised his mother with a chartered yellow school bus full of friends and family and a birthday trip to the track.

"We were all amazed," Wilson said. "Dad wasn't even the kind of guy to bring home flowers. We all went out to the infield and made a day of it."

Getting a piece of the San Luis Obispo would be icing on the cake, but Wilson has been to enough rodeos to know Kris Silver is up against it.

"To tell you the truth, it came up a lot tougher than I thought it would," Wilson said. "We know he does his best when he gets out front, and Tyler knows him really well, so hopefully he'll get a comfy little lead and keep on movin'. I just hope the others ignore us to deal with each other."

And if, heaven forbid, the San Luis Obispo has a Hollywood ending? Where would the trophy end up?

"I think it might go right next to the Oscar," Wilson said. "For sure."