06/12/2001 12:00AM

Designed for Luck puzzle for bettors in feature


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - When trainer Vladimir Cerin starts Grade 1 comebacker Designed for Luck in race 7 at Hollywood on Thursday, the comparisons with the dreadful comeback of Early Pioneer - another Grade 1 Cerin trainee - will be inescapable. Bettors will wonder whether to love Designed for Luck or to love him not.

Several factors favor Designed for Luck in the 1 1/16-mile turf race. He won the Hollywood Derby last fall but was disqualified for interference, so he fits on class; his workouts are strong; Cerin typically does well with comebackers; and his speed figures suggest he is the horse to beat.

All that is fine, but the attributes of Designed for Luck correspond with the attributes of Early Pioneer, who beat only one horse in his comeback eight days ago. For that race, Cerin admits he was in a hurry. "I rushed Early Pioneeer a little bit to try to make the Gold Cup," he said. "I'm not rushing Designed for Luck."

A good field of classified turf runners entered the Thursday feature, including Inglewood runner-up National Anthem, consistent Quianlong, droppers Dunhill and Sarafan, and South American import Last Parade. It is a good field in which Designed for Luck is anything but a lock. He is expected to perform better than Early Pioneer, however.

Designed for Luck, owned by David and Holly Wilson, was freshened following a runner-up finish Dec. 26 at Santa Anita. "He just wasn't training well, and the good thing about training for Mr. and Mrs. Wilson is that when they're not right, you don't have to run them."

And now? "He's right," Cerin said. "Physically, he's fit, but he's the kind of horse that probably needs a race to get mentally fit."

Designed for Luck was claimed by Cerin and the Wilsons for $62,500 in 1999, and has earned $212,385 since the claim. The Hollywood Derby disqualification (Designed for Luck was placed fifth) cost them $290,000. While the Thursday feature would be a nice start to a summer campaign, the same applies to National Anthem.

Trained by Ron McAnally, National Anthem won his U.S. debut gate to wire March 8, then finished second in the Grade 3 Inglewood April 21. Foot problems stalled his progress, and he will race Thursday for the first time in nearly two months. With a potential pace advantage, and a finishing kick, the 5-year-old is the most likely winner.