07/15/2004 11:00PM

Continuously far too classy

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INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Hollywood Park ends its spring-summer race meet Sunday, but not before bettors grapple one final time with a classic handicapping dilemma. At 1 1/2 miles on grass, the Grade 2 Sunset Handicap offers a choice between class and pace.

While most reasonable handicappers maintain that class is the key consideration on turf, not everyone measures it the same. Bettors who believe class is a horse's willingness to win may consider Continuously - runner-up in three of his last four - vulnerable. The analysis would be mistaken.

might be a standout in the $150,000 Sunset, because he is the only starter who qualifies by an objective measure of class - the level at which a horse recently has been competitive. Continuously has been right there in his most recent races at the Grade 2 level. His Sunset rivals have not.

Bobby Frankel, whose assistant is Humberto Ascanio, trains Continuously. "He's the type of horse that comes running at the end," said Ascanio, who wondered, "Is there going to be more speed in this race?"

Continuously finished sixth, beaten 3 1/2 lengths, last out in the Grade 1 Charles Whittingham Handicap at 1 1/4 miles, while compromised by the slow pace.

Ascanio expects the 12-furlong distance Sunday "will probably help him more than anything."

Alex Solis rides the 4-for-15 Continuously, who was placed first via disqualification last fall in the Grade 1 Hollywood Turf Cup. Continuously is the most likely winner among seven Sunset starters. And yes, there is speed to set up a closer.

will be loose on the lead, and misguided bettors may prefer the pacesetter over the class. Trainer Mike Mitchell claimed Star Over the Bay for $80,000 from a mile race he won in a quick 1:33.04, and the horse then missed by a neck in the $200,000 Dallas Turf Cup at Lone Star. A 6-for-36 veteran, Star Over the Bay will try to steal the Sunset, at a class and distance he never has attempted.

"The way he trains, he should get a mile and a half easy," Mitchell said. "When you work him, he gallops out so strong, and when he gallops he goes better the second mile."

The Sunset field includes comebacker Freddy, who cannot possibly be ready to win off a 19-month layoff; Gallant, a $50,000 claimer; Gulchie, eligible to the second allowance condition; and contenders Leprechaun Kid and Runaway Dancer.