06/04/2003 12:00AM

Menacing Dennis in season debut


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Menacing Dennis was all over the racing map in 2002, winning a sprint for statebreds at the California State Fair in Sacramento, finishing 10th in the Preakness, and placing in stakes at Hollywood Park and the Big Fresno Fair.

Friday, Menacing Dennis makes his 4-year-old debut, and first start in eight months, in an optional claimer over six furlongs at Hollywood Park. The $55,000 race marks his first start for trainer Doug O'Neill after a transfer from Jeff Bonde over the winter.

Owned by JMJ Racing, Menacing Dennis faces four opponents in Friday's race, and can open his season with a victory, O'Neill believes.

"He worked in 1:11 and he went pretty easy," O'Neill said. "He has so much natural speed. I could win off a layoff."

Menacing Dennis was third in his last start, the Bull Dog Stakes at Fresno last October. In nine starts last year, he won twice - an allowance race at Santa Anita and the McCabe Derby at Sacramento - while racing at eight tracks.

In his only appearance at Hollywood Park, he finished second in the $250,000 Snow Chief Stakes, leading to deep stretch before finishing second to Calkins Road.

Menacing Dennis can lead or stalk the pace. O'Neill is hoping that jockey Victor Espinoza will give Menacing Dennis a stalking trip behind probable pacesetter Radiata. Espinoza was aboard for the Santa Anita win and the second in the Snow Chief Stakes.

Also in Friday's race are Fleet Foot, Do Whats Right, and Way to the Top.

Fleet Foot has won 3 of 4 starts, all at Del Mar in the last two summers. Trained by Bobby Frankel, Fleet Foot suffered his first defeat when third in an allowance race last August, his most recent start.

Do Whats Right is also trained by O'Neill. A 4-year-old colt, Do Whats Right won a $40,000 claimer on April 24, but was seventh in the Grade 3 Los Angeles Times Handicap on May 10.

Do Whats Right and Way to the Top are entered to be claimed for $80,000. For the 5-year-old Way to the Top the price is a jump in class. He was claimed for $62,500 for current trainer Jeff Mullins on May 14, following a third-place finish in a turf race over 5 1/2 furlongs.

Radiata is taking a drop in class. He finished second in the El Conejo Handicap and fourth in the Palos Verdes Handicap at Santa Anita in January. Friday's race is his first start for trainer Larry Barrera.