04/27/2007 12:00AM

Favorites vulnerable on Gold Rush Day

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INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Change is in the air on Sunday at Hollywood Park, where many familiar names are vulnerable on the $1.3 million California Gold Rush program.

The 10-race, all-California-bred card includes six stakes, led by the $200,000 Melair for 3-year-old fillies. The 1 1/16-mile Melair is the strongest race on the card and typifies the theme of the day. That is, a vulnerable favorite challenged by an improving upstart.

Romance Is Diane has accomplished more than any Melair starter, but four months after her upset in the Grade 1 Hollywood Starlet, she has failed to reproduce her form. Perhaps she is a Cushion Track specialist who merely needs a surface other than dirt or turf.

Her trainer, Mike Mitchell, hopes so. "She has trained so well on Cushion Track, I expect her to run her race again on Sunday," he said.

The question is whether the best race by Romance Is Diane good enough to defeat allowance winner Tiz Elemental.

An allowance-race romp by Tiz Elemental last out stamped the daughter of Cee's Tizzy as a future stakes winner, even if she is short on seasoning. The Melair is only her second try around two turns.

By the time the Melair is run - race 8 on a 10-race card - the upset theme may have been established. It could start early.

Race 2 is the $150,000 Fran's Valentine, a 1 1/16-mile turf race for fillies and mares. Nashoba's Key has raced only twice, but her devastating allowance win last time suggests she can upset the class of the field, Grade 2 winner Memorette.

Race 3 is the $150,000 B. Thoughtful Stakes, a seven-furlong dirt race for fillies and mares. Although graded stakes winner Somethinaboutlaura is favored, her recent form is sketchy, and she faces rapidly improving Getback Time and Honky Tonk Baby.

Race 4 is the $150,000 Tiznow Stakes, a 7 1/2-furlong sprint in which Grade 1 winner Greg's Gold will start as one of the shortest prices on the card.

A $1 million-guaranteed pick six pool is up for grabs on races 5-10. Race 5 is a filly-mare allowance and includes likely favorite Silver Z.

Race 6 is the $150,000 Khaled Stakes, a 1 1/8-mile turf race. Anything goes in the Khaled, which attracted a veteran lineup including Super Strut, Epic Power, Jack's Wild, and Bedlam Bertie.

Race 7 is an allowance open to colts and geldings; the possible scratch of Spoils in Excess opens the door for Valiant Effort.

Race 9 is the $250,000 Snow Chief Stakes, a 1 1/8-mile race for 3-year-olds in which Leesider will try to upset stakes winners Freesgood and Pirates Deputy. Race 10 is a maiden sprint for 3-year-olds and up that drew a full field of 14, plus two also-eligibles.

Race 8 is the Melair, and it is the race of the day. A demonstrative last-start sprint win by Tiz Elemental suggests she is any kind. She won her debut wire to wire, then finished second by a nose behind subsequent graded stakes winner Mistical Plan in a sprint stakes. Her only route race was on turf, and it was a disaster.

"I'm throwing it out," trainer Carla Gaines said matter-of-factly. "It was a slow pace, [the jockey] tried to take her back."

It did not work. Tiz Elemental got in tight quarters, dropped back, and made no impact in a race that was won gate to wire.

Gaines was not surprised when Tiz Elemental, owned and bred by Warren Williamson, returned to form with a huge come-from-behind sprint win.

"She's a real easy horse to train in the mornings," Gaines said. "She'll do whatever the rider wants."

The question for Tiz Elemental is whether she can provide the same finishing kick around two turns that she did in a sprint. A similar question applies to Swiss Diva, runner-up last out behind Magnificience in the Grade 3 Santa Paula, a sprint that was designed as a prep for her.

Swiss Diva's only two-turn try was a fifth-place finish Feb. 10 in the Grade 1 Las Virgenes. But she was compromised in that race when she bobbled and grabbed a quarter. She needed two months off, ran well in her comeback, and has been aimed specifically for the Melair. Agapito Delgadillo rides Swiss Diva for owner-breeders Rick and Sharon Waller.

Others in the Melair are You Are the Answer, Eastlake Avenue, Curiously Sweet, Prenuptial, Rollerskates, Swiss Current, and Beyond the Mark.