10/11/2005 12:00AM

Willow O Wisp passes on Cup

Willow O Wisp, coming off a victory in the Del Mar Derby, could run in Saturday's Grade 2 Oak Tree Derby.

ARCADIA, Calif. - Sending three-time stakes winner Willow O Wisp to the Breeders' Cup at Belmont Park on Oct. 29 was only a passing thought in trainer Vladimir Cerin's mind.

Despite Willow O Wisp's improving form, Cerin said he has decided that Saturday's Grade 2, $150,000 Oak Tree Derby, and possibly the Grade 1 Hollywood Derby next month at Hollywood Park, are better spots for Willow O Wisp.

"It's hard not to have those thoughts," Cerin said of the Breeders' Cup. "But it is in his best interest to skip it and have a chance to mature. Hopefully, we'll have a nice 4- and 5-year-old."

A 3-year-old gelding, Willow O Wisp has 4 wins in 5 starts this season and earnings of $478,250. He has won his last three starts: the Grade 3 Cinema Breeders' Cup Handicap at Hollywood Park in June, the Grade 2 La Jolla Handicap at Del Mar, and the Grade 2 Del Mar Derby.

"He's come out of a number of paceless races without a fast final time, but he got there first," Cerin said. "He keeps developing mentally and physically."

In the Del Mar Derby, his last start, Willow O Wisp set a quick pace and finished 1 1/8 miles on turf in 1:45.85.

Being able to set the pace could help Willow O Wisp in the Oak Tree Derby, which may have a small field. The probable starters include Eastern Sand, Follow the Rainbow, and Osidy.

Surf Cat headed for Strub Series

Surf Cat returned from a sixth-place finish in the Grade 1 Pacific Classic in August to win his fourth career race Monday, a victory that could be his only appearance of the autumn.

Ridden by Alex Solis, Surf Cat ($2.40) rallied from fourth in the final half-mile to win an allowance race by three lengths over Texcess. Surf Cat finished 1 1/16 miles in 1:41.65.

Trainer Bruce Headley said he wants to prepare Surf Cat for the three-race Strub Series for 4-year-olds of 2006, which begins Dec. 26 with the Malibu Stakes over seven furlongs.

"If there is nothing at Hollywood Park, we'll wait for the Malibu," Headley said. "I want to save him for his own age division. My main objective is the Strub Stakes."

Surf Cat has won 4 of 8 starts and $322,420. Monday's victory was his first win since the Grade 2 Swaps Breeders' Cup Stakes in July. In the Pacific Classic, Surf Cat finished 6 1/4 lengths behind race winner Borrego after racing near the front to early stretch.

"That wasn't a bad race," Headley said of the Pacific Classic. "He got beat six lengths by Borrego, and he came back to win."

Borrego returned to win the Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont Park on Oct. 1.

Malley Girl upsets Cover Gal

Malley Girl, claimed for $40,000 out of a maiden race at Del Mar in August, pulled an upset in Monday's Cover Gal Stakes for statebred 2-year-old fillies.

Trainer Bob Hess Jr. credited the victory to his mother-in-law, Ginger Smith, who suggested the claim. Malley Girl will be pointed for the $125,000 California Cup Juvenile Fillies over 1 1/16 miles on Nov. 6.

In Monday's race, Malley Girl ($11) disputed the pace of 22.55 and 45.85 seconds set by River's Prayer, the 4-5 favorite. Racing on the outside of River's Prayer, Malley Girl took the lead in midstretch and won by a half-length over Bless Idbyour Name. "The strategy was to ride her confidently," Hess said.

River's Prayer, who finished third in the Grade 1 Del Mar Debutante in August, finished third in the Cover Gal.

Malley Girl, ridden by Kent Desormeaux, finished seven furlongs in 1:23.92.

Mandella remembers Phone Trick

Shortly after trainer Richard Mandella learned of the death of Phone Trick on Monday, he rummaged through a desk drawer and found a nameplate featuring Phone Trick's name and breeding: Clever Trick-Over the Phone.

Aside from winner's circle photos, the nameplate, still attached to a small portion of a leather halter, is one of the few mementos that Mandella has of Phone Trick's career.

"We found this a few years later after we realized we didn't keep anything when he was around," Mandella said.

In 1985 and 1986, Phone Trick won 9 of 10 starts, five stakes, and $395,112 for Mandella and Howell Wynne. Phone Trick won his first nine starts, including the San Carlos Handicap at Santa Anita and the True North Handicap.

He finished second in the 1986 Tom Fool Stakes, emerging from the race with swelling in a leg. After several weeks of time off followed by light training, Phone Trick resumed serious work.

But in the days before the 1986 Breeders' Cup Sprint at Santa Anita, Phone Trick suffered a fractured sesamoid during a workout and was retired to stud. He was at stud in New York at the time of his death.

Monday, Mandella recalled Phone Trick's final season, lamenting that the medical technology available today was not available in the mid-1980's. He said a nuclear scan, now common practice for top horses, may have detected the injury that led to Phone Trick's retirement.

"If we'd have the techniques we have now, I could have avoided that," he said. "I did everything I could do."

Phone Trick later sired Phone Chatter, whom Mandella trained to the 1993 champion 2-year-old filly title, and Favorite Trick, the 1997 Horse of the Year, who was trained by Patrick Byrne.

Mandella remained a member of the stallion's syndicate. "He was a lot of fun," Mandella said. "I'll have to have toast to him tonight."

Board investigates Klan photo

The California Horse Racing Board is investigating an incident that occurred in the jockeys' room last week, when a photograph of a Ku Klux Klansman was placed in the locker of a black jockey, Kerwin John.

John, 30, of St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands, said he was offended, even though he thinks it was a practical joke.

"I don't know what's going on. This may be a joke, but that's too far," he said on Monday.

According to a person familiar with the investigation, the CHRB is treating the incident seriously, even if it was a practical joke. The stewards declined to discuss the incident, pending an ongoing investigation, according to steward George Slender.