11/12/2002 1:00AM

Drysdale sees Japan as right idea for Sarafan


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Sarafan and Reba's Gold were scheduled to leave late Tuesday night for Tokyo, where they will compete, respectively, in the Japan Cup and Japan Cup Dirt on Nov. 23-24 at Nakayama Race Course.

Sarafan was scheduled to work on Tuesday morning at Hollywood Park, but trainer Neil Drysdale instead opted to give Sarafan a strong gallop, in company with another horse, because the track still had plenty of moisture in it following heavy rain last Friday and Saturday.

The Japan Cup, which is run on turf, is usually held at Tokyo Race Course, a left-handed track. But because that track is undergoing renovation, it will be held this year Nov. 24 at Nakayama, which is a right-handed course. Sarafan, however, had plenty of experience - and success - on right-handed courses in Great Britain before coming to the United States, and Drysdale believes he will adapt quite well.

"He won going right-handed at Beverly, won and finished second at Goodwood, which is also right-handed, and was second at Sandown, which also is right-handed," Drysdale said. "He's a superior right-handed horse. One of the reasons we are keen to run in the Japan Cup is that we don't think running on a right-handed course will impede him. We don't think he's strictly a left-handed horse."

Sarafan had a recent prep race in the Morvich Handicap at Santa Anita's Oak Tree meeting. Earlier this year, he won the Eddie Read Handicap at Del Mar and the Explosive Bid Handicap at Fair Grounds, beating Beat Hollow both times. He also was second to Beat Hollow in the Arlington Million.

Sarafan has been owned by Gary Tanaka, but Drysdale said Tanaka sold a small interest in the 5-year-old gelding last week to Fusao Sekiguchi, for whom Drysdale trained 2000 Kentucky Derby winner Fusaichi Pegasus.

Reba's Gold earned his start in the Nov. 23 Japan Cup Dirt following a victory in the Steinlen Handicap at Hollywood Park on Sunday. He also won the Pomona Invitational in September at Fairplex, and was third in the Goodwood Handicap during Santa Anita's Oak Tree meeting.

Wet track annoys Frankel

Hollywood Park's main track, though listed as fast for Tuesday's workouts, still was quite wet and produced slow times. Bobby Frankel, who is based year-round at the track and used to rave over the main track, has denounced the surface since it was renovated in recent years, and was none too pleased with Tuesday's conditions.

"It's [terrible]. It's still not dry after three days," Frankel said. "It's still muddy. A lot of horses aren't handling it. Some are handling it, but some aren't. I got spoiled training in New York this summer. If it doesn't rain there, the track is fast the next day. This track holds too much moisture."

Eual Wyatt Jr., Hollywood Park's general manager, said the track was drying out at a normal rate. "When you get over two inches of rain, it's a steady downpour for 30 or 40 hours, they have to realize - it's dirt," Wyatt said.

Frankel said his top turf horse Denon pulled a muscle in a workout on Monday while preparing for the Nov. 23 Hollywood Turf Cup. He hoped the injury was minor and would not prevent Denon from competing in the Turf Cup.

- Empire Maker, a 2-year-old colt highly regarded by Frankel, worked five furlongs in 1:02.40 on Tuesday. He is scheduled to head to Aqueduct for the Nov. 30 Remsen Stakes for his next start.

Frankel said Empire Maker would be one of several horses he has based this winter at Fair Grounds in New Orleans with assistant Jose Cuevas.

- Also on the work tab was Banks Hill, the runner-up in last month's Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf. She worked five furlongs in 1:01.80 in preparation for the Grade 1 Matriarch Stakes on Dec. 1.

- Trainer Rick Mettee is now working as the Hollywood Park-based assistant to Paddy Gallagher, whose main stable is at Santa Anita.