04/29/2008 12:00AM

Fire Wood often close, rarely wins


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Fire Wood would look better Thursday at Hollywood Park except for a conspicuous liability noted by trainer Ron Ellis: "He runs second a lot."

When he runs 1 1/4 miles on the main track Thursday in race 3, Fire Wood enters with 2 wins and 12 second-place finishes from 28 starts. Nonetheless, the 6-year-old Fire Wood looks like a logical contender in the second-level optional $62,500 claimer.

His four opponents are Capitano, Mostacolli Mort, Tissy Fit, and Lonely Highway. Fire Wood finished second last out in a similar 1 1/4-mile race on turf, earning a respectable 89 Beyer Speed Figure.

"Ratings-wise, he's better than he was last year, but he's always hooking somebody good," Ellis said.

The 7-year-old stakes veteran Capitano is racing for a tag for the first time; Mostacolli Mort moves up in class after a three-length first-level allowance win on the main track at Santa Anita.

In race 4, a field of nine California-bred 2-year-olds race 4 1/2 furlongs, and trainer Mike Harrington entered two - Mountain Guide, a son of Swiss Yodeler, and Crude Oil, a Formal Gold colt who might need a start.

Streamin Heat, a full sister to 5-for-9 stakes winner Excessive Heat, makes her debut for trainer Wesley Ward. She is the only filly in the field.

The race-7 feature is a second-level allowance turf sprint for fillies and mares. Australian import O'Perfect One makes her first United States start for trainer Ben Cecil. Her rivals include Ingrid the Gambler and Squeeze Me Tight.

Turf in the future for Monzante

Monzante will not be running again soon on the Hollywood main track. He finished a dull sixth last Saturday as the 6-5 favorite in the Grade 2 Mervyn LeRoy Handicap.

"I'm just scratching my head, because he went into the race so good," trainer Mike Mitchell said, speculating the gelding may not have cared for the surface.

Mitchell said Monzante would skip the Grade 2 Californian on May 31, and wait for the Grade 2 American Handicap on turf June 28.

"His form overseas on the grass was better than synthetic," Mitchell said.

Bilo, the 5-2 morning-line favorite last Saturday in the $150,000 Tiznow Stakes, scratched because Mitchell said he was one work short. Winner of the Grade 1 Triple Bend last summer while trained by Marty Jones, Bilo is being pointed for the Grade 3, six-furlong Los Angeles Handicap on May 10.

Mitchell won the training title at Santa Anita with 33 winners, but lost with his first nine at Hollywood Park. On Tuesday, he was philosophical.

"That's what this game does, it humbles you," he said.

Pleasure Grounds seems okay

Pleasure Grounds returned home to Golden Gate Fields on Tuesday, two days after finishing last as the 3-1 favorite in the $250,000 Snow Chief Stakes. Trainer Dean Pederson is chalking it up to a case of nerves.

Pederson said that jockey Garrett Gomez told him Pleasure Grounds "never settled down one bit, and by the time he got the to the gate he was completely rattled."

The 20-length loss was the horse's first subpar effort; Pederson said Pleasure Grounds was scoped and did not bleed.

"He pulled up fine, we'll just regroup," he said.

Now Victory's career may be over

Pederson will regroup without one of the best horses in his barn. Now Victory, who won five stakes in Northern California, scratched last Saturday from the Bay Meadows Handicap with an unspecified injury that jeopardizes his career.

"It's been a fun two and a half years, and hopefully he makes it back" Pederson said. "But if he doesn't, he doesn't owe us a dime."

Now Victory won just 1 of 7 in Southern California before transferring to Pederson. From fall 2005 through March 2008, he won 8 of 21 and earned more than $400,000.

Magical Victory will target Railbird

Magical Victory lost her allowance-race comeback last Friday night at Hollywood Park, but the prep race served its purpose and trainer Gary Stute said the 3-year-old filly's next start will be May 11 in the Grade 3, seven-furlong Railbird Stakes.

Magical Victory was racing for the first time since throat surgery. Jockey Victor Espinoza told Stute she could have won if the six-furlong race was run in daylight.

"He said he couldn't get her to concentrate because she was looking at the lights," Stute said.

Magical Victory, by Victory Gallop and out of Grade 1 Del Mar Debutante winner Miss Houdini, has won 1 of 3. She earned an 87 Beyer Figure in her comeback.

* The $1.3 million California Gold Rush produced two new lows on Sunday - the ontrack attendance (8,034) was the lowest since the all-Cal-bred stakes program was implemented in 2000, and the 77 Beyer Figure earned by Snow Chief Stakes winner Harlene was the lowest in the history of the $250,000 stakes race. The good news from Sunday is the pick six, which featured a $1 million guaranteed pool, carried over to Wednesday.

* The first day of the Show Me the Money contest at Hollywood Park wiped out half the players. More than 2,500 entered the online contest at hollywoodpark.com, which requires selecting one horse each day to finish in the money. The most widely selected horse Sunday was race-1 favorite Tiz a Blend, the choice of 26 percent of the players. She ran out. After one day of the $5,000 winner-take-all contest, only 1,203 players were still alive.