04/20/2004 12:00AM

Arvada looks to have edge at distance

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INGLEWOOD, Calif. - The Hollywood Park turf course will be a busy place during the spring-summer meet that began this week. Two allowance races on grass are the main attractions Thursday, which means five of the meet's first 16 races will be run on turf.

On initial inspection, the course appears able to withstand the activity. The tightly cropped course resembles a pool table, coverage is thick, and early indications are that the course is in excellent shape. It should be. Until this week, the last time the turf had been used for a race was Dec. 21, closing day of the fall meet.

Thursday's key question is how , northern California shipper Dancing Sand, recent maiden winner Jordyn Macoma, and longshot Vale of Wings.

Arvada's form was hardly imposing when she arrived from Europe. She finished in front of a total of just six rivals in her last four starts overseas. Not that she was running in easy spots - she beat one in a Group 1, outfinished one more in a Group 2, beat two others in a listed stakes, and two more in a Group 2. Trouble was, Arvada was virtually noncompetitive in most of those races. Nevertheless, bettors made Arvada the 7-2 second favorite in her March 28 U.S. debut, and she finished fourth.

The effort was not bad, nor was it particularly good. It was just ordinary, and the fact that Frankel's other starter, Perfect World, was the even-money favorite suggests that the race was intended merely as a non-stressful prep for Arvada. If the fourth-place finish represents the limit of her ability, she is in trouble. But she was beaten only 2 1/2 lengths in that 1 1/8-mile race, and gets a longer distance Thursday.

At 1 1/4 miles, with a comeback under her belt, Arvada is the most likely winner. Victor Espinoza rides the 4-year-old filly, whose main rival, Harbor Blues, ran very well to finish third in the March 28 race. She is virtually assured to set the pace again, and that fact alone makes her a candidate to win. She has shown little desire to maintain her advantage, however - Harbor Blues has won just 1 of 16.