04/28/2004 12:00AM

New Zealand import hits ground running


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - It is customary for horses shipped from New Zealand to be given several months to acclimate to California racing before they make their local debut.

On Friday, trainer John Sadler is taking a different approach with De La Costa, who makes his first American start in the fifth race at Hollywood Park, a $47,000 allowance race over 5 1/2 furlongs on turf

arrived in the U.S. in March, Sadler said. In New Zealand, De La Costa had 2 wins in 6 starts, with both wins in a two-week span last winter.

"It's not conventional, but he's been okay. It's an experiment for me," Sadler said of running De La Costa so soon after he arrived in this country.

De La Costa won a maiden race over six furlongs on Dec. 27 and an allowance race by a nose over seven furlongs on Jan. 10. In his final start in New Zealand, he finished third in a Group 3 race over a mile on turf on Jan. 24.

"He trains like a nice horse," Sadler said.

De La Costa will be ridden by Frank Olivares and breaks from post 7 in a field of 10.

Friday's eight-race program begins at 1:20 p.m., the only Friday afternoon program of the spring-summer meeting.

Aside from the turf sprint, there are two $54,000 allowance races over 1 1/16 miles on the main track.

In the second race, Pesci, the highly regarded 4-year-old filly trained by Wesley Ward, attempts to win her third career race. Third in the restricted Santa Lucia Handicap on April 4, Pesci will be strongly favored Friday.

Patrick Valenzuela has the mount on Pesci, who will be fitted with blinkers. The filly is co-owned by actor Joe Pesci.

In her stakes debut at Gulfstream Park in January, Pesci finished ninth in the $500,000 Sunshine Millions Distaff for California-breds and Florida-breds. Ward later said that Pesci was struck in the eye by a dirt clod during the race, an injury that caused serious concern but later cleared up.

Pesci won her first two starts impressively - a maiden special weight race over six furlongs by 8 1/2 lengths here on Nov. 29 and a first-condition allowance race over 1 1/16 miles by five lengths at Santa Anita on Dec. 28.

In the seventh race, Quilimanque will attempt to win his second consecutive start.

Trained by John Dolan, Quilimanque rallied from last to win a one-mile optional claimer by a head at Santa Anita on April 1. He has five rivals on Friday, including Fonz's, who stretches out from sprints.