07/05/2004 11:00PM

Half empty or full?

Yessirgeneralsir will make his first start out of the Midwest in Saturday's Hollywood Gold Cup.

INGLEWOOD, Calif. - The depleted ranks of the California handicap division has left Even the Score a heavy favorite in a short field in Saturday's $750,000 Hollywood Gold Cup at Hollywood Park.

The Grade 1 Gold Cup lacks the two leading members of the division. Southern Image, the winner of the Santa Anita Handicap and three other stakes since Christmas, is recovering from a foot injury. Pleasantly Perfect, the winner of the 2003 Breeders' Cup Classic and Dubai World Cup in March, is preparing for a comeback in the San Diego Handicap at Del Mar on Aug. 1.

The Gold Cup is likely to have at least five starters: Continental Red, Even the Score, Olmodavor, Total Impact, and Yessirgeneralsir. Gift of the Eagle and Royal Moro, who would be longshots, have not been ruled out.

Small fields have plagued the Gold Cup, which has drawn six or fewer runners in four of the last 10 runnings.

"I'm surprised more people don't try it," said trainer Richard Mandella, who starts Olmodavor and trains Pleasantly Perfect. "It seems like people are more conservative and less willing to try that."

Even the Score can give trainer Vladimir Cerin his second Gold Cup. Cerin won in 2000 with Early Pioneer, who paid $51.

Even the Score is a standout on the basis of his wins in the Mervyn LeRoy Handicap and Californian Stakes at this meeting.

Owned by Ro Parra of Austin, Even the Score was bought privately last fall. He was given several months off to allow his feet "to grow out," Cerin said.

"He continues to have those problems, but we're able to manage them better," he said. "We're able to train him harder, and he's getting faster and stronger. Hopefully, we haven't seen his best yet."

Cerin said Even the Score became a Gold Cup candidate "at about the eighth pole" of the Californian. In that race, run over 1 1/8 miles, Even the Score pulled clear from seven rivals and won by 3 1/2 lengths.

The Gold Cup will be Even the Score's first start at 1 1/4 miles. Even the Score, a 6-year-old by Unbridled's Song, finished third in an allowance race over 1 3/8 miles on turf at Churchill Downs in May 2002 while trained by Dallas Stewart.

"I think the distance will be my horse's friend," Cerin said.

Even the Score should get a good trip. Yessirgeneralsir will set the pace, closely tracked by Total Impact.

Yessirgeneralsir is making his first start outside the Midwest. Trained by Dallas Keen, Yessirgeneralsir won the Grade 3 Lone Star Park Handicap over 1 1/16 miles May 31. Tuesday at Hollywood Park, Yessirgeneralsir worked a half-mile in 45.40 seconds, the fastest of 22 works at the distance.