10/31/2003 1:00AM

Deadly Weapon, Montbretia best of 9


ARCADIA, Calif. - It is becoming increasingly difficult to fill races in Southern California, for one simple reason. Said Santa Anita racing secretary Mike Harlow: "No horses."

For the second consecutive Sunday at Santa Anita, the featured stake race did not fill. The $75,000 Hidden Light Stakes for 2-year-old fillies was canceled when only four entered the mile turf stake. The race will be rescheduled as an allowance, and the Sunday stake race replaced by a first-condition sprint that goes as race 7. One week ago, the Lure Stakes was scrapped with only four entrants.

"Categories are weak; there's just nothing there as far as inventory," Harlow said. "We can make maiden races fill, but you can only write so many maiden races. Basically, we're looking at the same horses. Last year at Oak Tree we had 8.4 or 8.5 [starters per race]. This year, we'll be nowhere near that."

The nine-race Sunday card drew just 63 runners. Through Thursday, the 24th day of the Oak Tree meet, the average field size was 7.8 per race. Exclude the Breeders' Cup races, and the average field size is 7.7 per race. The Sunday card includes three maiden races, four claiming-class races, and two first-condition allowances races.

The seventh-race feature Sunday is a $40,000 allowance at six furlongs. The one-other-than sprint attracted nine entrants, and a case can be made for several of the older horses. The two likely to gain the most wagering attention are recent maiden winner Deadly Weapon and Montbretia, a runner-up under similar conditions in his most recent start at Del Mar.

Deadly Weapon was making only his second career start on Oct. 5 when he drilled maidens by three lengths and earned a 95 Beyer Figure. Deadly Weapon, by Elusive Quality, won the six-furlong maiden race in 1:08.91 after pressing a strong early fractions of 21.54 and 44.20 seconds. Deadly Weapon, trained by Bob Hess, figures to be positioned in front of his main rival.

That is comebacker Montbretia, who drew an advantageous post that complements his running style. A come-from-behinder, Montbretia drew post 9 in the nine-horse field. The colt has a sharp recent workout for trainer Eoin Harty, and will be ridden by David Flores.

The other starters are The Student, Talara, Punchulah, Quietly Quick, Prime Time Event, Royal Siphon, and Amerindio. In race 2, first-condition fillies and mares race six furlongs for a $40,000 purse. Tender Teen and Sea Jewel are among the principal contenders in the six-horse field.