11/27/2003 1:00AM

Blanc not waving white flag


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - On last Saturday's episode of Animal Planet's "When Horses Go Nuts," filmed at Hollywood Park in conjunction with the Hollywood Turf Cup, the handsome chestnut Labirinto dumped jockey Brice Blanc on his way from the walking ring to the grandstand tunnel, broke through a side gate, cleared out several rows of spectators, and aged his young trainer, Leonard Powell, at least 10 years.

It was a wild scene, and a vivid reminder of just how effective mounted police can be when they wade their horses into unruly crowds. Unsuspecting patrons lingering near the paddock figured their toughest challenge would be deciding whether to include Labirinto in their exacta calculations. One last look couldn't hurt. Then - crash! - here he comes, up close and personal.

It all happened in a blur, with just a bit of it caught on tape by the Hollywood Park video team. What there was, though, looked like the mob stampede from "Godzilla." Special recognition goes to the woman who vaulted the walking ring fence, and to the man who managed to backpedal out of danger without losing his hot dog or spilling a drop of his beer.

Beyond the obvious pleasures of solving the puzzle and cashing a bet, racing offers a daily parade of nature's most flagrantly indulgent creation. The Thoroughbred is designed for a lot of things - speed, beauty and power lead the list - but, unfortunately, a cool head in a crisis is not among them.

Thankfully, Powell kept his wits and quickly got Labirinto under control. The horse was eventually okayed to run, although he needed a new rider, for it was Blanc who took the worst of the ordeal.

"I'm just glad he's okay," Powell said. "The horse is a little stiff, but nothing more. I'll wait for Santa Anita to run him again. At least over there, when the horses get to the tunnel, they are picked up by the ponies. At Hollywood they go through the tunnel alone."

For Blanc, it wasn't much of a homecoming. Once a regular on the Southern California circuit, he has spent the last year plying his trade in Kentucky, and the reception has been good. From time to time, he will venture West - he won the San Juan Capistrano aboard Pasinetti in March at Santa Anita - and he was looking forward to getting a piece of the Turf Cup when Labirinto hit the roof.

To his credit, Blanc is getting right back on the horse - or at least back on the domestic air carrier. He will return to Hollywood on Sunday to ride Sign of the Wolf in the $600,000 Hollywood Derby, the richest race of the autumn holiday meet. Sign of the Wolf has been racing in France, where he is trained by Francois Rohaut, for whom Powell once worked. It was Powell who recommended Blanc for the mount.

The derby occupies the same program as the $500,000 Matriarch. Between the two of them, there will be handicapping puzzles galore. The fields are grab bags of Europeans, Easterners, and qualified local talent, with such accomplished runners as Fairly Ransom, Stanley Park, Silver Tree, and Senor Swinger headlining the derby.

The 30-year-old Blanc, a native of the French city of Lyon, is no stranger to success in Hollywood's fall classics. In 1999 he teamed with Happyanunoit to defeat Tuzla and Spanish Fern in a rip-roaring edition of the Matriarch. Other top races on his resume include the Ramona at Del Mar, the Del Mar Oaks, the San Pasqual, and the Vinery First Lady. Since Blanc will be laying eyes on Sign of the Wolf for the first time this weekend, he is not certain what to expect. At the very least, he would like to make it safely out of the paddock.

"I just hope things go a little smoother," Blanc said Thursday from Churchill Downs, where he was preparing to ride the holiday program. "That wasn't much fun, being tangled up under the horse."

For Blanc, the incident remains uncomfortably clear. Something spooked Labirinto, causing him to dip defensively and angle to his left. When his hind end hit the gate, he panicked.

"He felt trapped," Blanc said. "I didn't have my feet in the irons yet, so I couldn't stay with him. I ended up between his legs, under his belly, and I can tell you that's not a place you want to be."

Blanc escaped with cuts and bruises to his right leg and his left knee. His right elbow caught most of the blast, and his ribs were sore from the tossing he got while beneath the horse. He spent a couple of hours in the ER at Centinela Hospital and X-rayed clean, then hopped a red-eye flight back to Louisville.

"Thank goodness they gave me some painkillers," Blanc said. "I passed out and slept all the way."

For his trouble, Blanc earned a mount fee of $105. He returned to work at Churchill Downs on Wednesday and won two races.

"That was a tough way to make a hundred," Blanc said. "But winning those two races was the best medicine. Now I'm looking forward to coming back for the derby."

His luck can only improve.