09/01/2003 11:00PM

Gone to Party possesses star potential

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SAN MATEO, Calif. - Gone to Party has eight rivals on Thursday in a $40,000 optional claimer for 3-year-old fillies at six furlongs. But if Gone to Party is as good as trainer Jerry Hollendorfer and jockey Russell Baze hope she is, her opponents are running for second.

Gone to Party, a John Franks homebred, looked like a sure thing at 4-5 in her Aug. 13 debut at the Bay Meadows Fair. She came into the race with a series of un-Hollendorfer-like works. She had a 46.60-second half-mile bullet, a 1:11.20 six-furlong drill, and five-furlong works of 59 and 58.60 from the gate.

Her 46.60 bullet came under Baze, who said he couldn't believe the time because she had done it so easily, just three days before her debut.

Gone to Party won her debut by six lengths, earning an 85 Beyer, and seems likely to improve Thursday.

She broke just a bit slowly in her debut, rated nicely, waited when blocked on the turn, and pulled away when she got room.

"She doesn't seem to mind dirt in her face and was on the bit waiting when I asked her to run," Baze said. "She has plenty of speed, but coming off the pace seems a better style of running for her."

Gone to Party is not a speed-crazed early developer. She was being prepared for the races in February before developing a slight problem that sidelined her until June. She came back better than ever.

"It will interesting to see how well she develops," said Baze, who scoffed when she was compared to speedy Soviet Problem, the 1994 Breeders' Cup Sprint runner-up, after her debut. He doesn't dismiss a comparison to northern California's top sprint filly, Lacie Girl, though.

Hollendorfer, who also trains Lacie Girl, is typically cautious.

"They all have something to prove," he said. "The way she ran the first time gives you hope, but this is a tough game. Some of the competition here has already won at this level and has to run for a tag."

Validating just won by six lengths at this level for her fifth career win. She can stalk and fire. Heat of the Moment, just claimed for $32,000, has won four straight and, like Validating, has five career victories.

But Gone to Party is the one to beat, and even Hollendorfer can't dismiss what a second straight victory would mean.

"If she wins again, she'll leap up a notch," he said.

Don't be surprised if it's a big leap.