06/17/2001 11:00PM

A case of class vs. big figure

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INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Heads or tails?

Although seven California-breds entered Wednesday's $46,500 feature at Hollywood Park, the first-condition sprint boils down to just two main contenders: Flags at Dawn holds an advantage in class and pace; Waingarth holds an edge in speed and endurance. At seven furlongs, bettors can flip a coin, or back the higher price.

Both 3-year-old colts are qualified. Flags at Dawn has lost four straight since winning his debut in January, but he has faced much tougher company than Waingarth. Trained by Jack Carava, Flags at Dawn comes off a runner-up finish to Figlio Mio, who scored right back against open company. In previous starts, Flags at Dawn faced stakes winners Trailthefox, Skip to the Stone, Wild and Wise, and Romanceishope.

Flags at Dawn is racing under the same allowance conditions of his last start - Cal-bred nonwinners-of-one-other-than. But make no mistake, he is dropping considerably in class.

If he wins, Flags at Dawn will do it up front under Martin Pedroza. He figures to make the lead in a race that came up surprisingly short on speed. Although Flags at Dawn has never raced beyond 6 1/2 furlongs, he benefits from a favorable track profile. Of the 13 races this month at seven furlongs, eight were won by a horse within one length of the lead at the first pace call.

The racetrack will not matter if Waingarth attacks early. Waingarth has earned higher speed figures in recent starts than Flags at Dawn and is shortening up to one turn following consecutive third-place efforts around two turns. Trainer John Sadler believes the distance is appropriate.

"I think he can run seven-eighths just fine, and he's doing real well," Sadler said. Although Waingarth, by Slewpy, finished a decent third last time out, Sadler admits to some frustration. "I thought he was going to win, so I was a little disappointed. Chris [McCarron] thought maybe he didn't like the turf."

Waingarth beat maidens the last time he sprinted, and while the quality of his competition remains suspect, Sadler is optimistic. He said: "I like this horse, I think he's capable of breaking through with a big race." McCarron is back aboard.

Flags at Dawn and Waingarth figure to dominate the betting, even with five others in the race. They include Apalachee's Native, shortening up and adding blinkers; R Meadow Luck, making his second start following a layoff; and comebackers Naughty Nacho, Know Sumthin, and Hushed Victory.