11/16/2004 1:00AM

Allowance comes up stakes-caliber


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Before post positions were drawn for the best race Thursday at Hollywood Park - a main-track two-turn allowance - trainer Ron McAnally said he felt lucky that Gondolieri was eligible for the race.

"It's either run here, or in a stakes," he said.

Is there a difference?

Eleven older horses race 1 1/16 miles in race 5 Thursday, and if it was not for the modest purse, one might believe it was the Grade 3 Native Diver Handicap that will be run next month. Eight of the 11 entrants are stakes winners, four are graded or group winners, and the horse that wins will earn every penny of his share of the $46,000 purse.

The strength of the field includes , whose $507,531 bankroll tops the field.

The race has multiple conditions - three-other-than, $80,000 claiming, or nonwinners of a $45,000 first-place purse this year. It basically is open to horses that have not won a major stakes this year, and the conditions are made to order for stakes-caliber Gondolieri and Verkade. Unfortunately, their similar up-front running styles mean they must overcome a pace scenario that favors a closer. But is there one that is good enough?

Gondolieri has won 7 of 15 and earned $257,778. Although he has won only 1 of 8 since being imported from Chile by McAnally and owner Nelson Bunker Hunt, Gondolieri has run a series of triple-digit Beyer Figures that would typically be good enough to win a race such as the Thursday allowance.

"He's a nice horse, he won a stakes here last year, and I think he should be ready," McAnally said.

Gondolieri blew out a half-mile Tuesday in 47.60 seconds, breezing, and if he can avoid a duel with Verkade he can win the race under David Flores.

Verkade is all speed, and making his first start in two months for Jeff Mullins. The 4-year-old Verkade wired a decent field in the Phil D. Shepherd Stakes at Fairplex Park in his most recent start, and will be gassing it up front Thursday under Corey Nakatani. Verkade has won 4 of 16 and earned $107,270.

The field includes longshots Manhattan Express, Special Matter, Asong for Billy, Freddy, Sanderman, and Valid Again.