04/28/2002 11:00PM

Lethal Instrument key in carryover chase

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INGLEWOOD, Calif. - There are more pressing issues Wednesday at Hollywood Park than determining whether or not Futural can rejoin the handicap-division elite this spring.

A pick six carryover of $683,636 is expected to generate a massive pick six pool of roughly $3.5 million, and the principal concern for bettors is deciding whether or not Futural is a singleton in a classified allowance that goes as race 7.

"I don't want to jinx myself, but I think he'll run very well," said trainer Craig Dollase. "It looks like a good spot for him to get his confidence back. And we're here, back on his favorite surface."

Futural may be the class of the field in the 7 1/2-furlong allowance, but pick six bettors who single the favorite may be sacrificing the most probable winner. Lethal Instrument has not raced in 14 months, but his comeback workouts have bordered on brilliant. Trainer John Shirreffs enters the race as confident in Lethal Instrument as Dollase is in Futural.

Those two 6-year-olds comprise the main contention on a race card certain to be the most highly scrutinized in the country on Wednesday. The pick six carryover is the result of a $1 million guaranteed pool Sunday that produced no winning tickets. The last time a guaranteed pool went unhit at Hollywood, last July 1, the ensuing pick six pool exceeded $3.5 million, and 40 winning tickets paid off at $57,728.40.

Whereas Sunday's pick six looked virtually impossible, it is not presumptuous to suggest that Wednesday's pick six is almost certain to be cashed. Three of the races include two apparent standouts; two others are maiden-claiming sprints for older horses, who typically run true to form. The most difficult race is a maiden-claiming sprint for 2-year-olds. Bettors who survive the first four legs of the series still face a dilemma in race 7, the $60,000 classified feature.

Futural bombed March 2 as the 3-1 favorite in the Santa Anita Handicap, finishing 12th of 14. It was the gelding's second start after a long layoff, and left legitimate doubts whether he would ever regain top form. One year ago, Futural won the Hollywood Gold Cup, but was disqualified and placed third. He was turned out following a last-place finish in the Pacific Classic, and tried to jump straight back into Grade 1 company this winter in only his second start back.

Dollase believes the reason for Futural's poor Big Cap effort was illness. While he did not have a temperature, Futural's blood count was "off" following the race, and Dollase backed off for a month. Futural since recovered and has trained super, including six furlongs last Tuesday in a bullet 1:12.20.

"It was actually a company move, too, to put some zip in him," Dollase said. If Futural runs as well as he trains, he should be right there in the 7 1/2-furlong race. Kent Desormeaux fills in for Futural's regular jockey Chris McCarron, who is in Kentucky all week.

If Futural faces current-form questions, then so does Lethal Instrument. He underwent ankle surgery after finishing 11th of 12 in the 2001 Santa Anita Handicap; the Wednesday allowance marks his first start in 14 months. His workouts have been brilliant, and trainer Shirreffs has been targeting the allowance for nearly a month. Victor Espinzoa, the hottest jockey in Southern California, rides Lethal Instrument.

The fact that Lethal Instrument won his 1999 debut by five lengths is further evidence he will fire fresh. If Futural is past his prime, then Lethal Instrument can score a mild upset in the eight-runner field. Other contenders include likely pacesetter Resolve, stakes winner Top Hit, and improving allowance runner Radiata.

The Futural-Lethal Instrument showdown in race 7 is the fifth leg of the pick six. Bettors will hope to stay live in the series (races 3-8) by first getting past a $10,000 claiming sprint.

Scoop of Ice has never raced as cheaply as he will in race 3. A former $50,000 claimer, Scoop of Ice returns from a seven-month layoff with an outside post and favorable running style. Every six-furlong race opening week at Hollywood was won by a front-runner. That is the style also employed by Scoop of Ice's main rival, class-dropper Mr. Reed.

Race 4 is a maiden-claiming sprint for 2-year-olds, led by Jerry Dutton-trained second-time starter Maui Wish. Three others figure to move forward following modest debut efforts: Surf Liner, Annual Challenge, and Grand Coolee. Race 5 is a two-horse race between class-dropper Sumati and Arbiter. The 1 1/2-mile turf race is a $50,000 starter allowance.

Race 6 is a $50,000 maiden-claiming sprint for older, and Seven Charms is the horse to beat, dropping after a midpack comeback. Race 8 is a $32,000 maiden-claiming sprint in which comebacking dropper Further is likely to start favored.