11/25/2003 12:00AM

Hurdles in Avanzado's path


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - It is usually Bobby Frankel who is the hunted, with everyone taking shots at him as he sends out the top choices in major stakes races. But on Thursday at Hollywood Park, Frankel will do the hunting with longshot Watchem Smokey.

Frankel will try to knock off California's best sprinter, Avanzado, who figures to be an overwhelming favorite in the $100,000 Vernon O. Underwood Stakes.

The Grade 3 Underwood is the feature on a Thanksgiving Day program that begins early, at 11 a.m. Pacific. The six-furlong race drew a field of seven, with six betting interests.

Avanzado won the Grade 1 Ancient Title Breeders' Cup Handicap at Santa Anita's Oak Tree meeting on Oct. 5. He was kept out of the Breeders' Cup Sprint because he would have had to be supplemented. Races such as the Dubai Golden Shaheen, in which expenses are paid, are far more attractive to his connections.

Avanzado finished second in Dubai this year, and there are plans for him to return next March. In the meantime, he needs a race or two to retain his edge, and the Underwood suits that plan.

The Underwood came up far weaker than the Ancient Title, but Avanzado still has three hurdles to overcome. He must carry top weight of 124 pounds, giving from six to 12 pounds to his rivals. He must overcome the rail; last summer at Hollywood Park, he faded in the seven-furlong Triple Bend Breeders' Cup Handicap after starting from the inside. And he must beat the upset-minded Frankel.

Watchem Smokey returns to the main track after finishing fourth in a downhill turf sprint at Santa Anita. He has won all six of his races on the dirt, but in places like Louisiana Downs, Oaklawn Park, and Lone Star Park. He does, however, get a huge weight break. Under the conditions of the race, Watchem Smokey gets in with the lightest possible impost, 112 pounds.

"He seems like he's doing fine," Frankel said Tuesday morning. "He can win if he runs back to his last race at Louisiana Downs. He ran a fast number there. He probably didn't like the turf."

The entry of Hasty Kris and Our New Recruit have both performed well at Hollywood over the years. Our New Recruit outdueled Omega Code, another Underwood runner, in an allowance race at Santa Anita Oct. 26. They should provide ample pace pressure for Avanzado.