12/10/2003 1:00AM

Mountain Rage: Will past be present?


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Mountain Rage has spent the last 18 months trying to duplicate the form that led to three consecutive stakes wins in early 2002.

During the winter and spring of that year at Santa Anita, Mountain Rage won the Hill Rise, Academy Road, and La Puente Stakes. But when the graded stakes began for 3-year-olds on turf, Mountain Rage went into a form reversal.

Trained by Bob Baffert, Mountain Rage has lost seven consecutive starts, a trend that could be reversed in a $48,000 optional claimer over 1 1/4 miles on turf at Hollywood Park on Friday.

He faces Harrisand, Hatif, Lusty Latin, Royal Gem, and Superiority in a race that could be switched to dirt in the event of heavy rain. Bobby Frankel trains Harrisand and Royal Gem while Lusty Latin and Superiority will start as an entry owned by Michael Gill and trained by Nick Canani.

Mountain Rage and Harrisand were third and fourth in an allowance race over 1 1/8 miles on turf on Nov. 13. Mountain Rage finished 2 1/2 lengths behind the heavily favored Sarafan.

Friday's optional claimer will be the longest race in Mountain Rage's career, which includes 5 wins from 16 starts and earnings of $349,382.

Other starters have ample experience in long races. Hatif, trained by Paulo Lobo, was sixth in the Grade 1 Hollywood Turf Cup on Nov. 22. Hatif has made two starts in the United States, including a fifth in an optional claimer at Santa Anita in October.

In Brazil, Hatif won a Group 1 race over about 1 1/4 miles on turf and placed in group stakes from 1 1/4 to 1 7/8 miles on both surfaces.

Both halves of the Gill entry are recent claims. Superiority was taken for $50,000 on Nov. 6 and returned to finish fourth in an optional claimer over 1 1/4 miles on turf on Nov. 26. In that race, Superiority led at the eighth pole, but finished 1 1/4 lengths behind race-winner Meteor Storm.

Lusty Latin is in a slump. Claimed for $80,000 when sixth in an optional claimer on Dec. 3, Lusty Latin is winless in 10 starts dating back to a minor stakes at Turf Paradise in January 2002. He finished third in the 2002 Santa Anita Derby and 15th in the Kentucky Derby that year.

Both of Frankel's starters will appreciate the distance. But Royal Gem, the winner of the 2002 Bay Meadows Derby and third-place finisher in the 2002 Hollywood Derby, is making his first start since May.