04/22/2003 11:00PM

French hopes to retain hot hand


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Judging from the remarkable meeting that trainer Neil French had at Santa Anita, everything he starts at Hollywood Park deserves serious consideration.

From only 21 starters at Santa Anita, French had seven winners and six other starters finish second or third.

Saturday at Hollywood Park, French will saddle his first starter of the new meeting when Princess V. appears in the $200,000 Melair Stakes for 3-year-old California-bred fillies.

"I would like to have the same meeting I had at Santa Anita," French said earlier this week. "We were fortunate with some nice horses and everything clicked.

"I think we will do reasonably well. The majority of the horses I have are younger horses that have showed promise."

Princess V. certainly fits that category. By Memo, she is unbeaten in two starts for owner-breeder Ken Porter. Princess V. debuted with a victory in a maiden race for California-breds last November at Hollywood Park, had the winter off, and returned to win a first-condition allowance race for California-bred fillies and mares over seven furlongs at Santa Anita on March 30.

"We knew she could run, but I wasn't real sure about the seven-eighths off the layoff," French said. "The first race was pretty impressive to go from San Luis Rey Downs and go to Hollywood Park and run like that. I would say she improved but her first race was pretty impressive."

The Melair Stakes is run over 1 1/16 miles. Princess V., who will be ridden by Mike Smith, is likely to be on the lead but does not have to set the pace, French insists. She had a tough draw on Wednesday, and will start from the outside post in a field of 12.

"She's not one-dimensional," he said.

Through the meeting, French will have several well-bred starters.

Six horses in his current stable are by Seattle Slew, including the promising 3-year-old Seattlespectacular, who was second in a one-mile allowance race at Santa Anita on April 2.

"Seattlespectacular ran a huge race," French said. "He's showing some promise. Those were mile races and he's bred to run farther than a mile. He showed a lot more professional behavior last time. That was encouraging."

French, 50, has an unusual stable at San Luis Rey Downs. Aside from the 12 horses he trains, he also cares for 18 horses that are being prepared for other trainers and are going through the initial exercise of their comebacks.

For a few years, French concentrated on that aspect of racing, but then resumed training a racing stable last year.

"The only reason that I started running some horses was the opportunity to train some nice ones," he said. "If they were just mediocre horses, I wouldn't have done it."

Snow Chief attracts nine entrants

Saturday's 10-race program features six stakes worth $150,000 or more and four overnight races, all for statebreds. The program features a $1 million guaranteed pick six pool.

The richest race of the day is the $250,000 Snow Chief Stakes for 3-year-olds over 1 1/8 miles, which drew nine entrants. Excessivepleasure, the winner of the WinStar Derby at Sunland Park on March 30, will go favored.

In the $150,000 Tiznow Stakes, General Challenge, who has not started in 2 1/2 years, will break from the outside post in a field of 10. General Challenge has been sidelined by a tendon injury and later a splint bone injury.

The Tiznow Stakes is run over 7 1/2 furlongs, and starts on the backstretch.

Final Destination goes for sixth in row

Final Destination, a winner of five consecutive races, is being pointed for Sunday's $100,000 Wilshire Handicap, a Grade 3 for fillies and mares over a mile on turf.

Trained by Bobby Frankel, Final Destination has not started since she won the Buena Vista Handicap at Santa Anita on Feb. 17. The first three wins of the current streak occurred in her native New Zealand and included the 1000 Guineas in November 2001.

In the Wilshire, Final Destination's competition will include Damaschino, Dublino, Little Treasure, and Melody Blue.

Damaschino beat males in a Group 3 stakes in Australia last November and is making her first start in the U.S. Dublino won the Del Mar Oaks last August and was 10th in the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf at Arlington Park in her most recent start.

Between the second and third races on Wednesday, Dublino and Little Treasure worked on the turf course.

Dublino worked with Turtle Bow, finishing five furlongs in 1:02.80, while Little Treasure worked alone over a half-mile in 49 seconds.

Falcon Flight retired

Falcon Flight, who finished third in the Breeders' Cup Turf and Hong Kong Vase last fall, has been retired, trainer Don Burke II said Wednesday.

Burke said that Falcon Flight was injured about a month ago but declined to reveal specifics. He said Falcon Flight is at San Luis Rey Downs in northern San Diego County and that plans regarding his future have not been finalized.

The 7-year-old Falcon Flight won 5 of 20 starts and $1,428,896. His stakes wins included the 2001 Stars and Stripes Breeders' Cup Handicap and the 2002 Arlington Handicap, both at Arlington Park.

The final season of his career was marred by unlucky finishes. Last August, Falcon Flight was fifth by a neck in the Arlington Million, while stuck on the rail at a pivotal point in the stretch. A month later, he finished second in the Canadian International despite racing in traffic on the final turn.

Man Among Men's next race uncertain

For now, Man Among Men is best known as the last horse to beat Kentucky Derby favorite Empire Maker, scoring an upset in the Sham Stakes at Santa Anita in February.

From there, their careers have gone in different directions. Man Among Men finished unplaced in the San Felipe Stakes and Arkansas Derby. Empire Maker won the Florida Derby and Wood Memorial.

Man Among Men is based at Hollywood Park with trainer Gary Mandella, and is likely to start at this meeting.

A precautionary nuclear scan is scheduled for this week, but Mandella does not expect the test to reveal any major setbacks.

"He seems fine. We're just making sure," he said.

Without the Triple Crown as a focus, Man Among Men could appear on turf or dirt. Mandella is considering the $200,000 Cinema Breeders' Cup Handicap over 1 1/8 miles on turf on June 29 or the $400,000 Swaps Stakes over 1 1/8 miles on the main track on July 13 as comeback races.

"I won't be in a rush to spot him," Mandella said. "I will just go along to see if he wants to run in the Cinema or Swaps."