01/27/2004 1:00AM

'Happiness' may be an overlay


ARCADIA, Calif. - Two basic handicapping considerations - class and condition - suggest that King of Happiness is nearly a standout Thursday in the feature race at Santa Anita. And yet, this import from England could be an overlay because of incidental factors that are far less important.

Nine older horses race 1 1/8 miles on grass in the feature, a two-other-than allowance filled with European imports. Seven of the nine entrants began their careers overseas, including three who are starting for the first time in the U.S. - , Pinkhair, and Brave Call. Based on the company he has kept and the way he has trained, there is every reason to believe King of Happiness is poised for a top effort.

Skeptics may underrate the chances of King of Happiness because he landed post 9 in the nine-horse field. As if it matters. Already this meet, post 9 has produced two winners from four starters in 1 1/8-mile turf races. King of Happiness is not likely to lose because of the post. Another concern might be trainer Neil Drysdale, who has not won a race in Southern California since Nov. 23. So what? Did the Hall of Famer forget how to train? Of course he did not.

Nor did King of Happiness forget how to run. A Group 3 winner at age 3, and the place horse in a pair of Group 3 races last season as a 4-year-old, King of Happiness has been training like a beast for his comeback. His last two works on the Santa Anita course were best-of-the-morning works, and they corroborate the European contention that he prefers fast ground. The Santa Anita turf course this winter has been lightning fast, and King of Happiness obviously handles the going. Eric Saint-Martin rides King of Happiness, whose overseas class and sharp current form make him the horse to beat.

Based on successive 107 Timeform ratings earned last fall in France, Pinkhair fits well while making his U.S. debut. Handicappers must contrast Pinkhair's runner-up finishes in listed stakes in France with King of Happiness's third-place finishes in Group 3 races in England. The edge goes to King of Happiness. Pinkhair has worked steadily for trainer Gary Mandella.

The final import in the field is the Ben Cecil-trained Brave Call, whose modest European form makes him the least preferred of the three.

The best local runner may be Bat Mobile, who finished an ordinary fifth in his first California start for trainer Bobby Frankel. The field also includes Middleweight, Alberto Giacometti, Terrifying, Eyad, and Helms Deep.