12/11/2007 1:00AM

Mr. Wolverine obvious off last

EmailINGLEWOOD, Calif. - When Mr. Wolverine returned from a 16-month layoff on Nov. 11, his trainer, Jorge Gutierrez, was hoping for a good, clean comeback race, something on which to build. He got far more. Mr. Wolverine narrowly lost the six-furlong grass race while covering six furlongs on firm turf in under 1:08.

"I was really surprised," Gutierrez said Tuesday morning at Hollywood Park. "I mean, I thought he'd run well. But not that well."

The encouraging comeback race bodes well on Thursday for Mr. Wolverine, who will be one of the leading contenders in the featured $45,000 seventh race at Hollywood Park. For Mr. Wolverine, the conditions are the same Thursday as for his last race - six furlongs, on turf, in a first-level allowance. But with that strong, recent race, Mr. Wolverine figures to move forward.

"He injured a tendon at Santa Anita last year," Gutierrez said. "That's why he was off. It just took awhile to get him back. I thought he'd be a little short last time. He really surprised me."

Mr. Wolverine has 10 rivals on Thursday, including Shootist, who has won two straight, most recently a six-furlong turf sprint on Nov.o23 against first-level California-bred allowance horses. Shootist now has to face open competition. His speed makes him the one to catch.

Bitter Bill has been off since April, when he finished out of the money in a turf sprint for the first time in four tries. He won a turf sprint on this course one year ago off a shorter freshening. He was second in the Baldwin Stakes on Santa Anita's hillside turf course earlier this year.

Kruger Park returns to a turf sprint after turning in an even-paced fourth-place finish going a mile at Santa Anita's Oak Tree meeting. Garrett Gomez, the leading jockey at the meet, rides Kruger Park for the first time. They, however, are marooned in post 9 coming out of the dogleg chute.

Hurry Up Austin has finished second five times in his 14 starts, including his lone turf sprint, on the hillside course at Santa Anita in February.

Congo King was fourth, 2 1/2 lengths behind Mr. Wolverine, in the Nov. 11 allowance. This will be the third start of his current form cycle.