07/12/2007 11:00PM

Mullins chases O'Neill for trainer title


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - The spring-summer race meet fizzles out Sunday at Hollywood Park, where small-field tedium is at least partly compensated by the increasing drama in the race for leading trainer.

Only 78 horses entered 11 races. The allowance-caliber Grade 2 Sunset Handicap includes a favorite that has never placed in a graded stakes. But so what? Stormin Away only runs in races he can win, such as the 1 3/4-mile Round Table which he won last month. Trainer Jeff Mullins is confident Stormin Away can win another in the 1 1/2-mile Sunset.

"If you get him to relax, he'll gallop forever," Mullins said. "And he's got a hellacious kick."

Apparently, so does Mullins. After winning 3 races with his first 46 Hollywood runners, Mullins has been on a tear the last five weeks, winning 19 races from 57 starters.

The surge brought him to within four of leader Doug O'Neill (26-22), who entered Friday 0 for 17 since Lava Man's win in the Hollywood Gold Cup. Mullins has four likely favorites Sunday, while O'Neill has three outsiders. Can the leader be caught?

"I don't really think about it, because he has three times as many horses as I have," Mullins said with only minimal exaggeration. Going into Friday, O'Neill had 203 starts, Mullins had 103.

"I try to spot my horses where they have a chance," Mullins said. "If we were to get by him that way, it would mean a lot."

With three days to go, Mullins's win percentage was 21.3. O'Neill's win percentage was 12.8.

In the $150,000 Sunset, race 9, Stormin Away and jockey Martin Garcia face a modest group that includes Runaway Dancer, Fitz Flag, Spring House, Bright Prediction, and Rush Rush. Owned by Joey and Wendy Platts, Stormin Away has won 8 races and $367,223 from 26 starts.

Mullins has three starters before Stormin Away. Scottsbluff is a favorite in race 1, a turf sprint stake; claimers Norway House and The Five J's are contenders in races 6 and 7.

Mullins said Norway House "is a hard-trying horse with his share of problems."

"If things go right for him, he'll win," Mullins said. "If not, he always picks up a check."

Norway House runs for a $20,000 claiming price at 1 1/16 miles.

Claimed last out for $25,000, The Five J's runs in a $32,000 claimer at a mile on turf. A front-runner, The Five J's is switching surfaces.

"The majority of his races are better on grass," Mullins said.