11/28/2008 12:00AM

California Flag too speedy to last


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - For the first five furlongs of the six-furlong Hollywood Turf Express Handicap on Saturday, one-dimensional speedball California Flag will be out where he likes to be - screaming on the front end.

But this fall at Hollywood Park, grass sprints have been a death trap for speed, and California Flag is more likely to be swallowed by the bias than he is to wire the $150,000 Turf Express, the Day 2 highlight of Hollywood's three-day Autumn Turf Festival.

Ten older horses entered the Grade 3 Turf Express. They include co-topweight Delta Storm, a stakes winner freshened since early October; improving Joe Bravo, a Group 1 winner in Brazil who is coming up to his best; and Grade 1-placed closer Carrilero.

They all must catch the Brian Koriner-trained front-runner, California Flag, whose two starts this fall on the Santa Anita hill produced a Grade 3 Morvich Handicap upset and a 10th-place finish in the $1 million Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint, in which he led to deep stretch.

Only 3 of the first 18 turf sprints at Hollywood, however, have been won by the pacesetter. All three were maidens who set slow fractions. California Flag routinely smokes the opening half in 44 seconds or less. It is the wrong style for Hollywood, and California Flag and jockey Joe Talamo will be lucky to hit the board.

Delta Storm would have faced California Flag in the BC Turf Sprint, but after he ran a dull second in his final prep race, trainer Mike Mitchell scrapped Breeders' Cup plans.

"It probably was a blessing in disguise, because he needed the break," Mitchell said, adding, "He's really doing good now."

Delta Storm has won 9 of 25, and could fall into a good trip from the rail.

"The one hole on grass doesn't bother me as much as the one hole on dirt," Mitchell said. On turf, "you don't have to [rush] him." Delta Storm and Aaron Gryder figure to be alone in second and inherit the lead when California Flag folds.

Joe Bravo had a troubled start last time, but rallied for second. Now trained by Bobby Frankel, he was a Group 1 winner in Brazil. Carrilero, unraced in two months, is 2 for 2 in turf sprints coming off a layoff.

Other starters include One Union, Majestic Diamond, Racketeer, Unusual Suspect, Hurry Up Austin, and Towzee. The Turf Express is race 9, while the Grade 3 Generous Stakes for 2-year-olds is race 5.