04/25/2004 11:00PM

Balestrini embarks on year of promise


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Balestrini was a cut below the best 3-year-olds in Europe last year. This year, he could be a factor in the top turf stakes for older horses in this country.

Balestrini's season begins Wednesday in a $50,000 allowance race at Hollywood Park.

Trained by Neil Drysdale, has been in the U.S. since last summer, but was given the winter off by design, Drysdale said.

"Mentally, we didn't think he was ready," Drysdale said.

Owned by Carl Holt, Balestrini has one win in six starts. The victory came in the Group 3 Ballysax Stakes over 1 1/4 miles on turf at Leopardstown, Ireland, last April. Through the spring and early summer, he started in three Group 1 races in France and England, finishing fourth in the Prix Lupin at Longchamp, fifth in the English Derby at Epsom, and 10th in the Eclipse Stakes at Sandown Park.

In Wednesday's race, Balestrini faces seven rivals. Only , who was 11th in the Group 2 Champagne Stakes in England in 2002, has started in a stakes. Most of the starters are coming off losses in allowance races.

Despite his credentials, Balestrini may be vulnerable on Wednesday. The race is run over a mile on turf, much shorter than Balestrini's ideal distance.

"We've got to start somewhere," Drysdale said. "He's been training well, but he's a bit of a character, a bit difficult."

Balestrini deserves to be favored. He has worked steadily on turf at Santa Anita and Hollywood, recording three bullet workouts in his last four works.

Balestrini breaks from post 2 and will be ridden by Kent Desormeaux.

His competition includes , who is making his first start in 23 months; Roberto's Show, who was third in an allowance race at Santa Anita on April 3; and Fabulous West, who is making his turf debut.

Stormed has yet to run on turf. He scored an impressive five-length win in a maiden race over 1 1/16 miles on May 30, 2002, but has not started since. Wednesday's race is his first start for Clifford Sise.

Roberto's Show was entered for an allowance race last Friday, but the race was not used. Trained by Doug O'Neill, he will race without blinkers for the first time in three starts.

Fabulous West was fourth in an optional claimer on April 1, his first start against winners. He was a game winner against maidens over 1 1/16 miles at Santa Anita on Feb. 29.