06/09/2004 11:00PM

Continuously right there

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INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Continuously was left behind in California when trainer Bobby Frankel sent most of his top horses to New York last month.

The decision may lead to Continuously winning his second Grade 1 stakes in the last eight months when he starts in a wide-open $350,000 Charles Whittingham Memorial Handicap at Hollywood Park on Saturday.

Run over 1 1/4 miles on turf, the features 11 entrants and lacks a standout. The contenders include Irish Warrior, the winner of the Grade 2 Del Mar Handicap last August; Continental Red, the veteran California-bred who was second in the Jim Murray Memorial Handicap on May 8; and the foreign invader Vangelis.

The Whittingham is the richest of three stakes on Saturday's program at Hollywood Park. It is run as the third race on a 10-race program that includes the $250,000 Californian Stakes for older horses over 1 1/8 miles and $175,000 Hollywood Breeders' Cup Oaks for 3-year-old fillies over 1 1/16 miles.

Continuously has not started since finishing second as a 3-1 favorite in the Grade 2 San Luis Obispo Handicap over 1 1/2 miles on turf at Santa Anita in February.

"He needed a break," Frankel said.

Last November, Continuously finished second by a nose to stablemate Epicentre in the Grade 1 Hollywood Turf Cup but was promoted to first after Epicentre was disqualified for interference in the stretch.

The Whittingham will be Continuously's first appearance at 1 1/4 miles since he finished fourth in the Grade 1 Clement Hirsch Handicap at Santa Anita last September. He has run at 1 1/2 miles in his four starts since then. Last July, he won an optional claimer over 1 3/8 miles on turf at Del Mar.

"I think he might be better at a mile and a quarter," Frankel said.

Continuously has been assigned 116 pounds, one pound less than Vangelis, the starting highweight.

Frankel also starts Gassan Royal, who was third in the Murray Handicap last month.

The Whittingham will be the first start in California for Vangelis.

Vangelis was seventh in the Arlington Million last year and has made five subsequent starts, all in Europe. This year at Longchamp, Vangelis won the Group 2 Prix de Harcourt over about 1 1/4 miles on turf on April 4 and was seventh in a field of eight in the Group 1 Prix Ganay over about 1 5/16 miles on turf. Vangelis, 5, is seeking his third stakes win.

Aside from Continuously, two other entrants have won stakes at Hollywood Park: Continental Red (2003 Quicken Tree Stakes) and Just Wonder (2003 Cinema Breeders' Cup Handicap).

The race will be the stakes debut of Bayamo, who is trained by Julio Canani.

Bayamo has won consecutive allowance races on turf, but they were nearly 10 months apart because the gelding underwent surgery to have a bone chip removed from an ankle. Bayamo's latest win came in an allowance race over 1 1/16 miles on turf on May 5.

"I didn't think he was fit," Canani said.

Canani is guarded about Bayamo's chances, but in a wide-open running of the Whittingham, many of the entrants deserve consideration.