06/13/2005 12:00AM

County has fair excuse for last


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - A runner-up finish by County in an allowance race on May 15 left trainer Neil Drysdale frustrated. County was favored, but a poor break contributed to the loss and a chance for a second consecutive victory.

Wednesday at Hollywood Park, will be again be favored to claim his second victory in a $51,000 optional claimer over 1 1/16 miles for 3-year-olds. This time, even a tough start may not be enough to stop him.

On May 15, Drysdale said, County was "tailed" at the start, meaning that an assistant starter held his tail until the moment the gate opened. Such a tactic is designed to keep a horse's attention while in the gate, but Drysdale felt it worked against County.

"He missed the break," Drysdale said. "It probably cost him the race."

In a field of five in that race, County was third early and closed ground to finish 1 1/4 lengths behind Keep on Punching. So far, that optional claimer has been a productive race. Keep on Punching returned to win his third consecutive race in an optional claimer on June 4. Keep on Punching is nominated for Saturday's $250,000 Californian Stakes.

Wednesday, County starts from post 5 in a field of seven. The mount of Corey Nakatani, County has shown the ability to lead or stalk the pace. A winner of 1 of 5 starts, the gelding raced once at 2, finishing fifth in a one-mile turf race at Del Mar.

Owned by a partnership, County did not start again until February, when he finished third in a sprint at Santa Anita. He beat maidens by 6 1/2 lengths over 1 1/16 miles on April 27, his fourth start.

"He was a late-maturing horse," Drysdale said.

County's toughest opponent on Wednesday is , who won a seven-furlong maiden race on May 21. Trained by Bruce Headley, Rocket Ready disputed the pace throughout that race, winning by three-quarters of a length. The race was his second start.

Two of the entrants can be claimed for $80,000: , who drew the rail, and Cepheus Star. Go Coyote Joe is winless in five stars. He finished seventh at 92-1 in the Santa Anita Derby.

* There is an intriguing maiden race for 2-year-old fillies over 5 1/2 furlongs in the first race. The field of six includes Royal Fupeg, bought for $700,000 last September; Diplomat Lady, bought for $400,000 in February; and Tiger on the Loose, who cost $375,000 in March.