11/15/2004 1:00AM

Minister Eric back in action

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INGLEWOOD, Calif. - At the start of the year, trainer Richard Mandella was loaded with quality 3-year-olds. Action This Day and Minister Eric had finished one-two in the previous fall's Breeders' Cup Juvenile. Halfbridled was coming off an unbeaten championship year with her victory in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies.

It all looked so bright. But none of those three distinguished themselves this spring. Halfbridled, whose propensity to tie up kept her out of the Kentucky Oaks, was recently retired. Neither Action This Day nor Minister Eric has raced since the Kentucky Derby.

But as the year comes to an end, there is still a chance for redemption. Action This Day is a few weeks away from returning, with designs on Santa Anita's Strub Series in the winter. That is also where Minister Eric might be headed. He will take a step toward that goal when he returns to action in Wednesday's sixth race at Hollywood Park, part of a surprisingly strong midweek offering.

is one of several stakes-class runners who will show up in a second-level allowance going 6 1/2 furlongs. His rivals include Lifestyle, who began his career with a pair of dazzling victories before heading to the sidelines, and Harvard Avenue, who was third in the San Felipe Stakes and fourth in the Arkansas Derby earlier this year.

Minister Eric has played understudy throughout his career. He was second to stablemate Siphonizer in the 2003 Del Mar Futurity and second to Action This Day in last year's Breeders' Cup Juvenile. He has not raced since finishing 16th of 18 on a sloppy track in the Kentucky Derby, which marked his fourth start in seven weeks.

"He had a myectomy," Mandella said, referring to a common throat operation, "and we took the opportunity to give him some time off. He's trained well. He's ready to run."

Mandella said an ideal scenario would find Minster Eric running well enough to merit a start in the Grade 1 Malibu Stakes at Santa Anita on Dec. 26.

Lifestyle won his first two starts by a combined 23 1/4 lengths earlier this year at Gulfstream Park and Belmont Park. But in his third start, he failed as a heavy favorite in an allowance race on the Belmont Stakes undercard. He worked five furlongs in 58.40 seconds at Santa Anita on Nov. 6, which was the fastest work of the day among 59 horses.

Joe Bravo, who rode Lifestyle in his first three races, is scheduled to fly to California to ride Lifestyle.

Harvard Avenue was third in a comeback race at Santa Anita's Oak Tree meeting on Sept. 29.