12/11/2001 1:00AM

Frankel makes a case for You and Flute


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Led by Habibti, Tali'sluckybusride, and You, a small but strong field is shaping up for Sunday's Grade 1 Hollywood Starlet, the meet's championship race for 2-year-old fillies.

Habibti was the winner of the Del Mar Debutante, but missed the Oak Leaf Stakes because of illness and then could only manage to finish seventh in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies. Tali'sluckybusride won the Oak Leaf in the absence of Habibti, but was not supplemented to the Breeders' Cup and will be making her first start in more than two months. You won major stakes at Saratoga and Belmont Park, including the Frizette Stakes, but was fourth as the odds-on favorite in the Breeders' Cup.

"You is a really nice filly. The only question I have with her is the distance," said her trainer, Bobby Frankel, referring to the 1 1/16 miles of the Starlet. "I've tried to analyze the Breeders' Cup, and the only excuse I can give her is that she had a fever after the race, and maybe she didn't like being behind horses. She's doing well now. We'll try to keep her in the clear."

Frankel believes that if You "wins by five, she deserves the Eclipse" as champion 2-year-old filly. The leader of the division is thought to be the Breeders' Cup winner, Tempera, whom Habibti defeated at Del Mar.

Jerry Bailey rides You, with David Flores on Habibti and Jose Valdivia Jr. on Tali'sluckybusride. Others expected for the Starlet are Renaissance Woman, either No Turbulence or Respectful, and possibly Runaway Ab.

Flute taking it easy

Flute, the winner of the Kentucky Oaks and Alabama Stakes, is merely being walked at Frankel's Hollywood Park barn as she rests up for next year's campaign. "I don't want to get her ready too early in the year," Frankel said.

But Frankel still has keen interest in Flute this month, because ballots are about to be sent to Eclipse Award voters, and Frankel believes Flute should be the champion 3-year-old filly.

"She ran all year long. She deserves it. There's no doubt in my mind," Frankel said. "The major races she won would be like a colt winning the Kentucky Derby and the Travers Stakes. And she won them easy. The Breeders' Cup was a disaster. I mean, she and Tranquility Lake were on the track for 10 minutes while they dealt with Exogenous, while everybody else got to go back to the paddock. Who knows what that did to her? In the race she was so keen, she wanted to run off she was so stirred up."

Lebontempsroulet goes for three

Lebontempsroulet will seek his third straight victory when he heads Thursday's featured seventh race at Hollywood, an optional-claiming event for older horses at 6 1/2 furlongs on the main track.

Lebontempsroulet has won his last two starts sprinting on turf, but he won earlier this year on the main track at Del Mar. He drew the favorable outside post in the field of five.

Jekyll and Hide, last seen finishing fourth in the Californian Stakes here in June, returns to action for trainer Craig Dollase. Jekyll and Hide probably prefers more distance, but he likes this track and comes from a barn that has done well this meet.

Unlike the usual mid-week offerings here, Thursday's card has quite a bit of interest, with larger-than-usual fields and a pair of significant races for 2-year-olds.

In the fourth, an allowance race on turf, Western Stranger makes his local debut after a powerful win on the turf against maidens at Calder. He faces recent local maiden winners Natures Candy and Jetting Son. And in the fifth, the highly regarded Deputy Minister colt, Strive, makes his debut for trainer Bob Baffert. He faces Academy Spy and Diamond Hope, both of whom were second in strong performances last time out.

Espinoza's immigration odyssey

Jockey Victor Espinoza, who has not ridden in the past week because of an immigration problem, was expected back in the United States on Tuesday, and was expected to ride at Hollywood Park on Wednesday, according to his agent, Tony Matos.

Espinoza rode in an international jockey competition in Japan the last weekend of November, but he was denied return to this country because his visa had expired. Instead, Espinoza had to return to his native Mexico and tidy up his paperwork before being allowed back in the United States.

- Jockey Gary Stevens is riding this week in Hong Kong and is not expected back here until the meet's closing day, Monday. He was scheduled to ride in an international jockey competition Wednesday night at Happy Valley, and was to ride in a series of international races this weekend at Sha Tin.