04/21/2005 11:00PM

Best bets on appetizing Gold Rush card


PHOENIX - These special programs highlighting a particular state's equine production have been a boon. Maryland Million, California Cup, New York Showcase Day, you name it, it has been a success. That has been true not only for owners, breeders, and horsemen, but also for the player. Sunday's Gold Rush Day at Hollywood Park figures to be no different in terms of offering quality events with deep, competitive fields. At first glance there are three possible nuggets I will take a long look at come wagering time.

Fran's Valentine: I've been a Scrofa fan ever since she blasted onto the scene to win her maiden at 14-1 on turf last summer at Del Mar. She really blossomed in the fall, winning an allowance race at Hollywood and a turf stakes at Golden Gate Fields. Scrofa next went in the Sunshine Millions Filly and Mare Turf at Gulfstream on Jan. 29 and was brutalized from the start. To her credit, she ran on like gangbusters, finishing a close fourth behind Valentine Dancer, a tough mare she has to deal with again here.

But to show there were no ill effects from the Florida trip, Scrofa promptly came back in the Irish O'Brien down the hill at Santa Anita on March 17. She bided her time early and waited for room in the lane. The room did not come, so she made her own path, bulling her way between horses and winning off in smashing style. She's as good as ever - maybe better - and the presence of the rugged Valentine Dancer may mean Scrofa's price stays palatable at perhaps 5-2.

Tiznow: There's no doubt that Anziyan Royalty is a horse for this course.

The 5-year-old Anziyan Royalty goes into this 7 1/2-furlong event 4 for 5 over the Hollywood surface, and that one loss came early in his career. Take those races away and he's a mere 2 for 9 and really just another horse.

At Hollywood, however, Anziyan Royalty thinks he's Native Diver. Best of all, the distance is absolutely perfect for him. He likely isn't quick enough to handle the likes of Areyoutalkintome or some of the other speedsters in the race. But at this trip he has enough tactical speed to keep the sizzlers in his sights. Then his route ability - and love of all things Inglewood - can take over. He can keep running strong when some of the sprinters start gasping for air. His inactivity since the Hollywood Park winter meet is a bit disconcerting until you think about - why waste bullets and effort at Santa Anita or some other place he just isn't as fond of? Why not, as has been done by trainer Craig Dollase, simply give him the winter off, let him stretch his legs and come into the Hollywood Park meeting fresh and ready to swing.

Of course, that local mark won't go unnoticed, and Anziyan Royalty may well be favored. Even if he isn't the chalk, he figures a close second choice behind Areyoutalkintome, probably somewhere in the 3-1 range.

The presence of ample speed may also help Lava Man. Remember, he gave Anziyan Royalty a scare in the On Trust here last Nov. 13 at this trip. After a super try in the Grade 1 Malibu at Santa Anita, when he gave Rock Hard Ten absolute fits, Lava Man was dull in the Sunshine Millions Classic at Gulfstream, then dull again in the Crystal Water on the turf.

Trainer Doug O'Neill, coming off a record-setting Santa Anita meet, opted to freshen him up and point him for this race. There's not a lot between him and Anziyan Royalty, so Lava Man has ample appeal as well, particularly if he floats up to 8-1 or so.

Snow Chief: The day's marquee event matches some quality 3-year-olds going 1 1/8 miles. Thor's Echo, winner of Sunland Park's WinStar Derby, and Texcess, winner of the Delta Jackpot, were at one time considered for the Kentucky Derby. Their connections have, probably wisely, opted for this shorter, easier spot. Both are nice, but don't really strike you as 10-furlong horses

Even so, it's not like they tower over this field, and in fact could easily get in each other's way. Both are quick and figure right in the thick of things from the start. Toss in Lucky J. H., pacesetter in Consolidator's huge Grade 2 San Felipe win, and you have the makings of a strong, contested pace. Nine furlongs could be too much for them all.

That may set things up for a closer and Panama Lane might fit the bill. Trainer Dick Mandella is coming off a huge Santa Anita meet where he won at nearly a 30 percent clip and took down numerous stakes. Panama Lane kept to his task doggedly in his last race, March 16 at Santa Anita, also at 1 1/8 miles. That makes him a proven commodity at this distance, and while it's a step up in class, to be sure, he seems on the upswing. Best of all, he should be somewhere in the 6-1 to 8-1 range.