07/05/2006 12:00AM

Claiming races may decide titles


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - An otherwise quiet program at Hollywood Park on Friday night could play an influential role in the jockey and trainer titles at the spring-summer meeting.

The eight-race card comprises only claimers - no maiden special weight races, allowance races, or stakes. But for the jockeys and trainers trying to win titles, a victory or two on Friday could go a long way to determine the titleholders.

Both races are tight, and figure to stay that way through the end of the season on July 16.

Going into Friday's card, jockey Victor Espinoza led all riders with 54 wins, two more than Patrick Valenzuela. Espinoza had led for the first month of the meeting before losing his advantage to Valenzuela in late May. Espinoza retook the lead on June 23 and has held it since.

Friday, Valenzuela can make up ground. He has five rides, two more than Espinoza.

One of Valenzuela's best chances is Helmsgold in the second race, which is run at 1 1/16 miles on turf for 3-year-old claiming fillies. Trained by Peter Eurton, Helmsgold finished second in a similar race here on May 24, the day she was claimed for $50,000.

In the fourth race, Valenzuela rides Bradford in a $10,000 claimer at 6 1/2 furlongs for statebreds. Trained by Troy Bainum, Bradford won a $12,500 claimer against open company on June 22.

Espinoza's best chance is in the first race. He rides Romantic Rogue in a maiden claimer at 6 1/2 furlongs. Romantic Rogue is making his fourth start and was claimed in each of his first three races. On May 29, Romantic Rogue was claimed by John Sadler, who trained the gelding when he finished second at Santa Anita on March 26.

Leading trainer Jeff Mullins has one starter - River Fox in the eighth race. Through Tuesday, Mullins led Doug O'Neill in the standings, 28-26. Mullins and O'Neill have been at the top of the standings throughout the meeting, frequently trading leads.

River Fox adds blinkers for Friday's race, a sprint for $16,000 claimers. A 3-year-old gelding, he has 1 victory in 13 starts. Apprentice jockey Juan Ochoa has the mount.

O'Neill has three starters in two races on Friday - Dancing Britches in the second and Plan for Fun and Hopingandwishing in the fifth.