05/13/2004 11:00PM

Ho-hum card yields four key horses


PHOENIX - On the face of it, Thursday was just another day at Hollywood Park. Eight races, the norm. No real surprises. Nothing special, right?

Well, that couldn't be more wrong, and it's entirely possible that somewhere down the road you will look back to May 13 and see that as Christmas in spring: No fewer than four runners on the card grabbed my attention and certainly are worthy of much consideration when they resurface again.

Minnie the Moocher - This 3-year-old filly trained by Neil French failed to scratch into a similar maiden claiming race on Wednesday, but found a good spot here in race 3. Despite a work tab that was full, steady, and strong since mid-February, and the presence of leading rider Pat Valenzuela, she was ignored in the wagering, going off at 7-1. It turns out the win players were correct - Minnie the Moocher did not win while second choice Mesa Ridge did, but Minnie the Moocher certainly ran a winning race, one that sets her up well for her next try.

As can be a problem with any debut runner, Minnie the Moocher blew the start. She was ninth out of the gate, and that gave speedster Mesa Ridge, who already had a significant experience edge, a tactical one to boot. To her credit, Minnie the Moocher kept to her task and ran on smartly. She rallied to be a clear second, leaving the likes of even-money favorite Princess Malice about four lengths behind her.

Cookie Crumbs - Cookie Crumbs went into race 4, a $62,500 claiming turf sprint, as the 6-5 favorite because she was coming off a smart win sprinting on the hillside turf course at Santa Anita on April 1. Certainly, good recent form was enough to be in her corner, but the class rise was the real clincher. When trainer Bill Spawr moves them up in class you had better pay attention. He's telling you they're doing well and that if someone wants to claim them they're going to have to open up their wallet.

Cookie Crumbs didn't win here, but it wasn't for lack of effort. Second choice Absolute Nectar got away from her on the lead. While Cookie Crumbs was extricating herself from the back of the pack after a sluggish start, Absolute Nectar was cruising free and clear up front. It was too much to overcome, but Cookie Crumbs's strong inside move between traffic got her the place and sent a warning to her foes about next time.

Firstship - It wasn't so much what this 3-year-old gelding did in the day's sixth - his appeal is due more to a future opportunity. Firstship has excellent speed, and had shown it against $80,000 optional claimers on dirt last winter. He was gone about six weeks, then returned in an allowance turf sprint here April 30, but after pressing the pace faltered behind the exceedingly quick Slew's Prince. He dropped a bunch for this $25,000 claiming six-furlong race, and as usual showed some speed inside before flattening out to finish third.

Apparently he needs the lead for his best, but his appeal here is also due to some hot new connections. Jeff Mullins, recent winner of the training title at Santa Anita, saw fit to dive in and claim Firstship for $25,000. Mullins is a sensational 36 percent first off the claim and that's from a significant number of opportunities. After showing considerable promise last summer, Firstship hasn't progressed as well as one might expect. Perhaps a new chance with a new barn can turn that around. A series of so-so results can also keep your price for when he resurfaces.

Kitty and Boo - Obviously it's awfully early in the 2-year-old racing season to get too worked up about any performance, but what this 2-year-old filly did in race 8 was awfully impressive. She was making her debut off a series of fine but not spectacular works. Trainer Doug O'Neill found a $40,000 maiden claimer for her beginning. He put aboard his main rider, Tyler Baze, got a rail draw at a trip where it's a premium, and boom! She was gone. She jumped out of the gate, had a two-length lead before you could say 6-1, and just kept opening up, eventually putting some 8 3/4 lengths between her and runner-up Hold the Game.

Not only was the issue never in doubt, but any straight maiden 2-year-old filly would have been hard-pressed to keep up as she went 22.36 seconds, 45.39 on her way to a final time of 51.38 for the 4 1/2 furlongs.

O'Neill also got away with another move - no one claimed her. It's doubtful you will see her with a tag attached again. She's by the Mr. Prospector stallion Cape Canaveral, who showed immense talent and potential for D. Wayne Lukas a few years back before an injury stopped him. The Nursery Stakes goes Sunday, so she missed that, but don't be stunned if O'Neill targets the $75,000 Cinderella on June 6 at 5 1/2 furlongs. Anything close to a similar performance will make her downright scary there, too.