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HOLLYWOOD PARK : Don’t Be Fooled, Nothing’s Better Than Fine Cigar

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

Cigar, perhaps the finest horse to race in this decade, made many handicappers--including this one--look foolish with his dominance Sunday in the 56th Hollywood Gold Cup and it seems inconceivable that any horse in training could beat him.

Thunder Gulch, the Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes winner, and Timber Country, the Preakness winner, would have to improve a great deal to challenge him.

And what would have given Cigar the edge over Holy Bull--if the 1994 Horse of the Year were still racing--is his versatility. Cigar can win from up front or come from off the pace, whereas the Bull was basically one-dimensional, winning from the lead.

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As it turns out, Concern did not lose any teeth in his collision with the starting gate. He did loosen a tooth and suffered a minor scrape. Even if all had gone well, he would not have beaten Cigar, but he wouldn’t have finished off the board for the first time since 1993.

Best Pal, who finished fifth, came out of the Gold Cup with a sore left front foot and his status is up in the air. Here’s hoping he’s retired because he isn’t capable of beating top competition anymore and there is no way he is going to earn enough money to pass John Henry and Alysheba on the all-time earnings list. It’s been fun watching the richest of the California-breds.

Here’s a safe prediction: Urgent Request’s victory in the Santa Anita Handicap four months ago was his last. And there are no plans to retire him. . . . Does anyone still believe Del Mar Dennis can run 1 1/4 miles? He’s now had four tries at the distance and the best he could manage was a third.

Tossofthecoin, who was the butt of many jokes after he was bought for $1 million, then ran last in the Kentucky Derby, has developed into a tough customer. He fires almost every time and if Cigar had not been in the Gold Cup, he might have won. He held on well after pressing a hot pace and barely lost the place. He is well on his way to earning back that purchase price for owners Sid and Jenny Craig.

Tinners Way finished well for second and is the early selection to defend his title in the $1-million Pacific Classic at Del Mar on Aug. 13. That will change, however, if a certain son of Palace Music comes back to California again. But Cigar’s trainer, Bill Mott, said Sunday that’s not something he favors.

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Hoping for better luck than he has had in his last two races, Savinio is the 9-5 favorite in the $150,000 American Handicap today at Hollywood Park.

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The 5-year-old gelded son of The Minstrel didn’t have any excuses when he was beaten by the now-retired Blaze O’Brien by a neck in the Inglewood Handicap on May 6, but he did have trouble in the Hollywood Turf Handicap more than three weeks later.

Saving ground throughout, Savinio was trapped behind a stopping Cocooning on the turn, had to steady briefly, then rallied for third behind Earl Of Barking and Sandpit.

Chris McCarron will again be aboard Savinio in the American, which goes at 1 1/8 miles on the turf.

Romarin, who tired after chasing You And I in the Metropolitan Handicap, is the 5-2 second choice as he returns to his preferred surface. He is the one to catch from the rail under Corey Nakatani.

The field also includes the Bobby Frankel-trained entry of Eagle Eyed and Red Earth, Silver Wizard, Johann Quatz and the overmatched Cocooning.

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Sunday’s total handle of $16,138,816 was a record for Gold Cup day and was the third-highest total in Hollywood Park history. The previous record was $12,025,141 for the 1993 Gold Cup.

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The on-track attendance of 27,003 was the highest for a Gold Cup since 35,931 showed in 1991, when there was no inter-track wagering between Hollywood Park and Santa Anita.

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Three weeks after upsetting Auriette at 9-1, Royal Vale surprised 4-5 favorite Artica in the $66,500 Hidden Light Handicap on Monday at Hollywood Park.

Owned by Lauren Cohen, trained by Wally Dollase and ridden by Alex Solis, the 3-year-old, Canadian-bred filly sat second while longshot Turko’s Turn set the pace, then took over in mid-stretch and won by two lengths in 1:40 4/5 for the 1 1/16 miles on turf.

She paid $6.80 as the 2-1 second choice. My Oooo Aah was second, four lengths ahead of Turko’s Turn, then came Kuda and Artica. The favorite, who had won the Providencia earlier this year and was second in the Senorita Breeders’ Cup Handicap, threw in her second bad effort in a row. She had finished sixth in the Princess after a wide trip on June 18.

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Smooth Runner looks like a colt with stakes races in his future. The 4-year-old son of Local Talent made it two consecutive victories with a 5 1/2-length win in Monday’s eighth race, a $58,000 allowance. He covered the mile in 1:33 2/5. Smooth Runner is trained by Rick Mettee and was ridden by Chris Antley.

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On Target, who finished fifth in the Affirmed Handicap on Sunday, apparently injured an ankle and he will be sidelined indefinitely.

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The 3-year-old son of Forty Niner hasn’t won a race since the Del Mar Futurity last September.

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