11/26/2001 1:00AM

California Sage needs a little luck


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - A clean trip may be all that California Sage needs to win the third race of his career on Wednesday at Hollywood Park.

In his last two starts, troubled trips have kept California Sage out of the winner's circle.

He finished fifth after stumbling at the start of an allowance race at Bay Meadows on Sept. 22. In a $70,000 claimer at Hollywood Park on Nov. 8, California Sage overcome a poor start but was blocked in the stretch, losing by a length under Tyler Baze.

Traffic may be a factor for California Sage on Wednesday. With 11 entered, he may have to weave his way through traffic.

"He just keeps getting into trouble," said his trainer, Eric Kruljac. "In his last race, the start was bad. He kept running into trouble. It was no fault of Tyler Baze's, but that's the way it goes."

Wednesday's allowance race, run over 1 1/16 miles on turf for California-breds, features a mix of front-runners and closers. There is a chance it may not be run on the turf. The course was listed as yielding on Sunday, and there was a chance of rain on Tuesday.

A 3-year-old, California Sage won a maiden race on dirt at Turf Paradise last April and won a $50,000 claiming race for 3-year-olds on turf at Hollywood Park on July 4.

Off his last race, California Sage could be made the favorite, but Vixen Storm or Bastion may have that role.

Trained by Rafael Becerra, Vixen Storm won a maiden race at Bay Meadows on turf on Oct. 21 and was a surprise third at 72-1 in the California Cup Classic at Santa Anita on Nov. 3. He is the only horse in the field with takes experience. Scotty Wotty finished sixth in the California Cup Starter Handicap, but that race was for claimers.

A 3-year-old, Vixen Storm is a stalker who must overcome an outside draw. There is plenty of speed to help him and California Sage. Painted Avenue is coming out of sprints and can lead. Trained by Mark Glatt, Painted Avenue won a $50,000 claimer at Santa Anita on Oct. 26 and is making his turf debut.

Bastion, who won a starter allowance over this course and distance last July, is best from a stalking position. He led in his last race but faded to finish fifth. Before that, he was a game second at Santa Anita on Oct. 11, a performance that makes him a leading contender.

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