01/02/2002 12:00AM

El Cielo may spoil Frankel's party


ARCADIA, Calif. - Bobby Frankel sat placidly in his Santa Anita box during Wednesday's first race, watching his two horses, Autumn Rhythm and Narasimha, finish one-two. The day was starting just right, but Frankel had worries that he would not be as fortunate during the next two days of racing.

After a dark day on Thursday, Frankel has top contenders entered in the feature races here both Friday and Saturday. Frankel thought he would be "a cinch," he said, in Friday's featured seventh race with Speak in Passing. But Frankel was startled to find hillside course specialist El Cielo entered in the race, too. The 6 1/2-furlong turf race is an optional-claimer, and while El Cielo is not eligible for the nonwinners-of-three allowance conditions, trainer Craig Dollase entered him for a $100,000 claiming price.

"I didn't know the other horse was going to show up," Frankel said. "My horse is a nonwinners-of-three. He shouldn't have to run against a horse like that. Sometimes these optional-claiming races aren't fair. But it's worked in my favor before, too."

Frankel also saw clouds on the horizon for Saturday. He entered Euchre in the Grade 2, $200,000 San Pasqual Handicap, but said Euchre missed a scheduled work on Wednesday because of an infection in a front leg. "I might not run him," Frankel said.

Truth be told, things usually have a way of working out for Frankel. He won 18 Grade 1 races last year, and should win the Eclipse Award as champion trainer. And even though El Cielo could spoil his party on Friday, Frankel has a major say with Speak in Passing, who comes off a terrific effort in the Hollywood Turf Express.

Speak in Passing finished second in that race, nailed in the very last jump by Swept Overboard, who is also trained by Dollase. At Santa Anita's Oak Tree meeting, El Cielo beat Speak in Passing in the Morvich Handicap. But since then, El Cielo failed to handle a soft course, and two turns, in Hollywood Park's Citation Handicap.

A field of nine is entered in Friday's seventh race, including two from Frankel's barn. Both Speak in Passing and More Modern are owned by Juddmonte Farms. Frankel said More Modern was entered in case it rains and the race is moved to the main track. If the race remains on the turf, More Modern is a likely scratch. If it rains, Speak in Passing could still run, too.

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