11/18/2003 12:00AM

Hope Rises presents old conundrum


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Horseplayers have two choices in the seventh-race feature Thursday at Hollywood Park.

They can bet on a rock-solid favorite who won her debut in blazing time while geared down. Or they can wager against a vulnerable favorite who has never raced at Hollywood, never faced winners, and whose debut win was accomplished with a perfect trip over suspect opposition on a souped-up track.

Hope Rises fits both descriptions.

Six fillies and mares entered the one-other-than sprint, and following a demonstrative debut, Hope Rises will be justifiably favored.

"I don't think I've ever had a first-time starter win more impressively," trainer Ron Ellis said. "You usually don't see a first-timer run so professionally."

Hope Rises won that 6 1/2-furlong race geared down, in a swift 1:15.53 that earned a 91 Beyer Speed Figure. On Thursday, she faces a stronger field that includes Cat Fighter, a comebacker who has won at Hollywood; Shining Strike, whose 96 Beyer Figure in August tops the field; Lady Wildcat, the likely pacesetter; and longshots Love Emblem and Great Dancer.

Hope Rises returns only three weeks after her debut.

"I'm not worried about the time; it's just she's never been over the Hollywood surface," Ellis said. "Some horses like it and some don't. I don't know that I'd ever bet a big favorite that hasn't run over the track."

Ellis was reminded of the hazard Sunday, when his odds-on favorite Future Thought struggled in a Cal-bred maiden race, beaten 10 lengths. The disappointing performance is relevant to Hope Rises, because it was Future Thought who finished only a length behind Hope Rises three weeks ago at Santa Anita.

"[Future Thought] could have been example of the same thing; it's kind of a problem when they haven't run over it," Ellis said, referring to the Hollywood track, which is sandier than Santa Anita's. "But usually the good ones find a way to win."

Hope Rises looks like a good one. Purchased as a yearling for $210,000, the filly by Mr. Greeley worked sensationally for her debut and was favored at 7-5. David Flores rode her to a one-length, in-hand win, and she shows two half-mile works since.

- Race 5 Thursday is also a one-other-than allowance for fillies and mares, at 5 1/2 furlongs, on turf. Trainer Bobby Frankel, who won with 5 of 10 starters opening week, starts fast-working import Seattle Queen. Her rivals in the nine-horse lineup include lightly raced Annabelly, front-runner Indian Blanket, and sharp-working longshot comebacker Teresa Ann.