04/21/2002 11:00PM

Henson opening-day puzzle


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - The Hollywood Park spring-summer meeting begins on Wednesday with the $75,000 Harry Henson Stakes for 3-year-olds sprinting on turf, a race that's a difficult puzzle to solve.

The spring-summer meeting, which runs through July 21, will be available to home bettors in California for the first time this year through telephone and Internet betting, provided the Thoroughbred Owners of California and Hollywood Park reach an agreement on distribution of revenue. As of Monday, the two sides were still in negotiation.

The Harry Henson, named for the late track announcer, is the fifth race on an eight-race program. Wednesday's first post is 1:15 p.m. There is free general admission for opening day.

Run over 5 1/2 furlongs, the Henson drew 12 entries, but the field will be limited to 10 because of the width of the course. None of the entrants have won stakes this year, but Red Briar, Irish Vale, and Six Hitter won stakes in Europe last year.

Six Hitter makes his United States debut and first start for trainer Bobby Frankel, the leading trainer of this meeting nine times, most recently in 2000. Six Hitter won a listed stakes over 7 1/2 furlongs on turf in Florence, Italy, last September.

The Henson has three runners from the Grade 3 Baldwin Stakes at Santa Anita on Feb. 24: runner-up Red Briar, ninth-place finisher Road to Justice, and 10th-place Irish Vale.

Red Briar, a minor stakes winner in France last August, is winless in four starts in this country for Team Valor and trainer Jenine Sahadi. In the Baldwin, run on the hillside turf course, Red Briar lost by a head to Shuffling Kid, a performance followed by a fourth in the Academy Road Stakes and a 10th in the La Puente Stakes, both two-turn races. He should appreciate a return to sprinting.

Road to Justice and Irish Vale raced as an entry and were trained by Jim Cassidy in the Baldwin, but Road to Justice has since been claimed by Mike Mitchell.

Irish Vale has not started since the Baldwin, a race that frustrated Cassidy, who said the colt is not always well-behaved.

"If he minds his manners, he can run well," Cassidy said.

A stakes winner in Scotland last September, Irish Vale races for the same partnership that will start the longshot Ocean Sounds in the Kentucky Derby.

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