09/09/2003 11:00PM

Mullins starts meet at top


POMONA, Calif. - Trainer Jeff Mullins faced the same uncertainty three years ago that jockey Ryan Fogelsonger will deal with on Friday - wondering if there was enough room for one more horseman on the tough Southern California racing circuit.

Mullins found out the answer at the Los Angeles County Fair, which begins a run of 17 consecutive days on Friday at Fairplex Park. Said Mullins: "It is where I got my foot in the door and got the feeling we could be competitive in Southern California. It was definitely a stepping-stone."

After only occasional forays to Southern California, Mullins relocated permanently in 2001 and already ranks as one of the circuit's top five trainers.

Friday, it is Fogelsonger's turn. Mullins will give Fogelsonger, last year's Eclipse Award-winning apprentice, a chance to make an immediate splash as a California journeyman when he rides for the first time at Fairplex. Like Mullins did three years ago, Fogelsonger has relocated to Southern California and rides Mullins-trained favorite King Robyn in the $50,000 Foothill Stakes for 3-year-olds.

The 6 1/2-furlong Foothill is the racing highlight of the opening-day card, and King Robyn will try to become the first horse this year to win a stakes at all four of Southern California's major Thoroughbred tracks. King Robyn has won 5 of 8 this year, including three $75,000 stakes - the San Pedro at Santa Anita, Harry Henson at Hollywood Park, and Green Flash at Del Mar. He has won his last three on turf.

"A lot of turf horses run good [at Fairplex]; they negotiate the turns pretty well," Mullins said. "He's a pretty good turf horse, and a pretty good dirt horse. He's a good honest horse if you put him in the right spot."

Fairplex is a five-eighth-mile track over which Mullins has had much success.

Over the past five years, Mullins has won 29 races from 108 starters at Fairplex, and could end the meet the same way it promises to begin. Mullins will start razor-sharp Denied in the $100,000 Ralph M. Hinds on closing day, Sept. 28. The closing-day card will be run the same day as the opening-day Oak Tree card at Santa Anita. Mullins also may start Excess Summer in the $100,000 Pomona Derby on Sept. 27, and Top Spinner in the $100,000 Las Madrinas Handicap on Sept. 26.

King Robyn's main rival in the Foothill may be Jack Carava-trained Hell Cat, runner-up in a Fairplex stakes last year. Martin Pedroza, the all-time leading rider at Fairplex, rides Hell Cat. American Fury, Bound for Freedom, Demon Warlock, Jets Fan, and Saint Lorenzo are also in the field.