11/10/2003 12:00AM

Bien Bien opens meeting

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The Hollywood Park meeting includes five Grade 1 stakes: The Hollywood Derby, Turf Cup, Matriarch, Juvenile, and Starlet.

INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Gentlemen's Club debuted in June 2002 with a victory that suggested he was a potential stakes horse. Nearly 1 1/2 years later, those expectations remain unfulfilled.

Tuesday, the first day of the autumn meeting, Gentlemen's Club runs for the first time in a turf stakes in the $70,000 Bien Bien Stakes at Hollywood Park.

A muscle injury suffered in an eighth-place finish in the 2002 Del Mar Futurity kept Gentlemen's Club on the sidelines for a year. Since his return, he has one win in two starts, an allowance race on the hillside turf course at Santa Anita on Oct. 4.

The win gave trainer Richard Mandella a reason to try the one-mile Bien Bien Stakes with Gentlemen's Club.

"He won in a nice way in his first start and I ran him in the Del Mar Futurity and he pulled a muscle," Mandella said. "It took time to get past it, but he seems in good shape."

The Bien Bien Stakes is restricted to horses who have not won a first-place purse of $60,000 at a mile or over. The race could produce starters for the $600,000 Hollywood Derby over 1 1/4 miles on turf on Nov. 30.

The derby is the richest race of the six-week meeting, which includes four other Grade 1 races - the $250,000 Turf Cup on Nov. 22, the $500,000 Matriarch Stakes for fillies and mares on Nov. 30, the Hollywood Futurity for 2-year-olds on Dec. 20, and the Starlet Stakes for 2-year-old fillies on Dec. 21, the closing day of the meeting.

Six stakes will be run during the Turf Festival, Nov. 28-30. In addition to the Derby and Matriarch, the Turf Festival includes the Grade 2 Citation Handicap, and three Grade 3 stakes, the Hollywood Turf Express, the Miesque Stakes, and the Generous Stakes.

Tuesday's opening-day program comprises eight races. There are seven entrants in the Bien Bien.

Royal Place will set the pace. Trained by Rafael Becerra for K.K. Sengara, Royal Place was claimed for $62,500 on Aug. 29 at Del Mar from a victory in a one-mile turf race.

Royal Place made two subsequent starts on dirt at Hastings in Vancouver, finishing fifth in the British Columbia Derby and fourth in the Premier's Handicap.

"He broke bad twice," Becerra said.

Becerra was encouraged by Royal Place's five-furlong workout in 1:01.20 on Nov. 5.

"I think the race is worth a try," he said. "I breezed him the other day and he went good. He's a speed horse and I think it's the right distance for him."

Trainer Bobby Frankel starts Royal Price and Special Rate.

Royal Price beat maidens in his U.S. debut on Oct. 19. In Germany, he was second in the German 2000 Guineas earlier this year.

Special Rate has one victory in five starts. The Bien Bien will be Special Rate's first start on turf.

Blairs General, High Descent, and White Buck also start in the Bien Bien.

Blairs General was scratched from Saturday's California Cup Mile. White Buck was third in the El Cajon Stakes at Del Mar, and then seventh in the Pomona Derby at Fairplex.

High Descent has won 2 of 9 starts racing in the U.S. and Dubai. Trained by Eoin Harty, High Descent won an allowance race over a mile on yielding turf in his last start, which came at Arlington Park on Aug. 15.

"I don't know how good he is," Harty said. "He's been very consistent. It's a matter of whether the Arlington Park form translates to Southern California. He was in Chicago for a reason."

Buckland Manor, a candidate for the Bien Bien as late as Friday, will skip the race. A winner of two allowance races at Santa Anita in October, Buckland Manor will be pointed for the Hollywood Derby, trainer Paco Gonzalez said.

There is no racing at Hollywood on Wednesday, but racing resumes on Thursday.