01/09/2002 1:00AM

FJ's Pace has team in place

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ARCADIA, Calif. - FJ's Pace, trainer Doug O'Neill, and jockey Alex Solis have carved out a niche in high-priced claimers for turf sprinters in the last few years.

Since the 7-year-old FJ's Pace joined the O'Neill barn in the summer of 1999, he has won five of 22 starts, four of which came in turf sprints with Solis aboard.

On Friday at Santa Anita, the team will be out to pad its record when FJ's Pace starts as a likely contender in a $54,000 allowance race/optional claimer over about 6 1/2 furlongs on the hillside turf course.

Owned by Ren-Mar Thoroughbreds, FJ's Pace has sometimes been a training puzzle for O'Neill.

"He doesn't like to be whipped," O'Neill said. "He has to have everything go perfect in the first half-mile. He doesn't like being behind horses. He has a bunch of little idiosyncrasies. Sometimes, the things that you spent the last three or four weeks working for can go wrong."

FJ's Pace drew the outside in a field of seven and is one of three entrants eligible to be claimed for $80,000. O'Neill is disappointed that FJ's Pace is not trying for a fourth consecutive win, having finished second by a head in a $62,500 claimer on the hillside course on Dec. 26.

Previously, FJ's Pace won turf a hillside sprint for $62,500 claimers on Oct. 24 and a 5 1/2-furlong turf sprint for $50,000 claimers at Hollywood Park on Nov. 18.

"What's funny about him is that Solis knows him so well," O'Neill said. "I kind of just go wherever he can ride him. This race came up and Alex was open."

The competition includes Devil's Roar and Pacing the Cage, who have won over the course and distance, and El Curioso and Eye Pea Oh, who have been second in hillside turf sprints.

Pacing the Cage is a closer. Trained by Ted H. West, he was a three-length winner of an allowance race over 5 1/2 furlongs at Hollywood Park on Nov. 16.

Cathode could offer a challenge. Trained by Jenine Sahadi, the 4-year-old makes his debut against older horses and first start since last April. They will all be chasing FJ's Pace, a course specialist, who O'Neill admits is taking a jump in class.

"He hits really hard for $62,500," O'Neill said. "Every now and then, in these optional claimers, you'll get horses with more class than him, but they don't have the same pace."

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