06/03/2004 11:00PM

Bella Banissa tries stakes again

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INGLEWOOD, Calif. - After Bella Banissa finished second in the Nursery Stakes in her debut May 16, trainer David Hofmans said she was likely to reappear in a maiden race before trying another stakes.

Those plans were altered when Hofmans and owner Pete Parrella saw the nominations for Sunday's $75,000 Cinderella Stakes for 2-year-old fillies. Without Nursery winner Double D Appeal in the field - Double D Appeal may start in the Landaluce Stakes in July, trainer Jeff Bonde said - the Cinderella lacks a standout.

Of the eight entrants, two are maidens and two won two-furlong races in the spring.

Bella Banissa will be favored in the Cinderella, run over 5 1/2 furlongs. She was favored in the Nursery Stakes, led in midstretch, but was beaten 1 1/2 lengths by the late-running Double D Appeal.

"I think she'll have to improve off that race to win this," Hofmans said. "The horse that beat us is not running here, and we were clear of third. She deserves another chance."

Fortunate Event, the other maiden in the field, is a half-sister to Cheiron, the winner of the $250,000 Snow Chief Stakes for statebreds April 24. Fortunate Event finished fifth in a maiden race over 4 1/2 furlongs in her career debut May 19. Trainer Kristin Mulhall said that distance was too short.

Four Cinderella starters have won maiden races over 4 1/2 furlongs at this meeting - Lady Siphonica, Luck and Fame, Swiss Please, and Western Blondy.

Swiss Please won her debut April 28, but was fifth in the Nursery Stakes after a poor start. She drew the rail for Sunday's race.

Trainer Doug O'Neill starts Lady Siphonica and Western Blondy. Luck and Fame had the flashiest win of the quartet, scoring by eight lengths in a maiden race for $40,000 claimers May 20. She is trained by Molly Pearson.

Ireza (Azeri backward) and Souvenir Gift are more difficult to assess. Ireza won a two-furlong maiden race at Bay Meadows on April 21, while Souvenir Gift won a similar race at Santa Anita on April 14.

Numbers bring good and bad news

Business figures at the current spring-summer meeting at Hollywood Park are showing slight declines compared with the corresponding meeting in 2003, but major growth in account wagering via the telephone and Internet.

Through Monday, the 31st day of the 65-day meeting, average ontrack attendance was 8,446, a drop of 47 customers, or one-half of 1 percent. Average ontrack handle was down 3.8 percent, to $1,802,697.

Average nationwide handle was down 4.3 percent, to $4,047,463, but average account wagering handle grew 44.5 percent, to $715,576.

The average all-sources handle was $10,724,573, a drop of one-half of 1 percent.

"We did exceptionally well when we had a lot of horses on the racetrack," said track president Rick Baedeker. "We had the benefit of really generously full fields for two weeks. We made up an early season deficit. Over the last two weeks, other than Memorial Day weekend, we've had short fields. Everyone knows it: Put the product on the track and get people to play."

For the racing week of May 12-16, fields averaged 9.09 runners per race, a figure that dropped to 7.76 for the five racing days from May 19-23.

Baedeker said the benefits of the recently passed legislation that raises the takeout to help fund the workers' compensation insurance paid by trainers may not be felt during this meeting.

Racing officials throughout the state are hoping that half-percent increase in takeout on exotic bets placed on California races will attract more horses to race in California.

"I'm not going to be discouraged if we don't see a big influx immediately," he said. "It may take some time. We have something to draw them here with. I think we are justified in being optimistic."

Baedeker said an advertising campaign to promote California racing, which has started in trade publications, must continue.

"We need an image campaign, and we need it to run for a couple of years, not a couple of months," he said. "We'll be patient and do it for a couple of years. Hopefully, in two years, it will make a difference."

Whittingham heads three stakes

The $350,000 Charles Whitting-ham Memorial Handicap, a Grade 1 over 1 1/4 miles on turf, is the top race of three stakes next Saturday.

The Grade 1 Whittingham is expected to include Bayamo, Continuously, Even the Score, Irish Warrior, Just Wonder, and Vangelis, a stakes winner in France this year.

Saturday's program will also include the $250,000 Californian Stakes over 1 1/8 miles on dirt and the $175,000 Hollywood Breeders' Cup Oaks over 1 1/16 miles on dirt.

The probable starters for the Californian include Ender's Shadow, Publication, Total Impact, and Wild and Wicked.

The Oaks will have a top field, including the stakes winners Class Above, Elusive Diva, Hollywood Story, and House of Fortune.

A.P. Adventure, the winner of the Grade 1 Las Virgenes Stakes at Santa Anita in February, is unlikely to start. She was found to have an elevated white blood cell count earlier this week, according to trainer Wally Dollase.

Pico Central nursing cut

Pico Central, the winner of the Metropolitan Handicap at Belmont Park last Monday, is being restricted to walking at trainer Paulo Lobo's barn for a 10-day period while recovering from a cut sustained to his right foreleg in the race.

Lobo said the cut likely occurred at the start, when he grabbed a quarter while scrambling to gain footing.