09/06/2005 11:00PM

Foothill may give O'Neill running start


POMONA, Calif. - One year after breaking the single-season record by winning 16 races at the 2 1/2-half week Los Angeles County Fair meet, trainer Doug O'Neill offered an optimistic forecast for the 16-day 2005 meet, which begins Friday.

"I think we'll be pretty active," O'Neill said.

It is nothing new - O'Neill is always loaded for Fairplex Park. He has led or tied the standings the last three years, and this season tries to become the first trainer in 67 years of racing at the fair to win four straight titles.

O'Neill starts 2-for-3 on Friday in the $60,000 Foothill Stakes, a sprint for 3-year-olds that may set the tone for the meet. Diligent Prospect earned a 102 Beyer Speed Figure in his second career start, but is no cinch in the 6 1/2-furlong race. Shin problems have kept him from running since he won an optional-claiming sprint on Dec. 30, 2004.

In what could be a recurring theme, O'Neill must beat a horse trained by Jeff Mullins. Stakes winner has been working super for his first start in nearly a year, a layoff caused by a fracture in a hind leg. A closer, Swiss Lad is to be ridden by all-time leading Fairplex rider Martin Pedroza, who last year won more Fairplex races (a record 51) than the combined win total of the next six jockeys.

Four others entered the Foothill, including Ransom Demanded, Bushwacked, , and Ninety Fine.

On paper, the Foothill is a two-horse race. It won't always be that way. Fairplex averaged more than eight starters per race last year on the five-eighths-mile track, where total handle is expected to inch toward $110 million. Roughly $4 million in purses will be offered during a revised schedule that is shortened by one day.

The new Fairplex schedule is Wednesday through Monday, dark on Tuesdays; the same as Del Mar. In past years, Fairplex raced 17 consecutive days. The meet runs through Sept. 26.

Thirteen-race cards are planned for Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays; 11-race cards are planned for Mondays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays. Although the fair itself will be closed Mondays and Tuesdays (no rides or attractions), officials hope the "Monster Mondays" promotion will bring out players. Admission and programs are free on Mondays, and the first 2,500 Daily Racing Forms are free.

The Los Angeles County Fair meet offers a chance to try something new. Turf horses often run well at Fairplex; allowance-caliber horses typically dominate $60,000 stakes such as the Foothill.