07/08/2003 12:00AM

Old-timer has back class


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - A 10-year-old gelding making the 70th start of his career is the horse to beat in the richest race Thursday at Hollywood Park, where later on the card two lightly raced 3-year-olds are just starting promising careers in allowance races.

Native Desert drops in class in race 2, an optional $100,000 claiming race at a mile on turf. In race 6 at 5 1/2 furlongs on turf, front-runner Shadow of Illinois steps up and faces three front-runners in an optional $80,000 claimer. Finally, second-time starter Dhamma stretches out to two turns in race 7, her first start following an impressive maiden sprint.

Bettors will expect Native Desert to win. Trained by Juan Garcia for owner Miguel Rubio, Native Desert has won 21 races and more than $1.8 million, and his current class gives him the advantage over Bayou the Moon and Soud. Native Desert finished third in his most recent start June 13 in a stronger classified allowance. The drop from classified to N3X is huge, and makes Native Desert a virtual standout while switching to leading rider Pat Valenzuela.

Five runners entered the race, but it would appear only two others have a legitimate chance to upset the favorite. Bayou the Moon finished third under similar conditions June 8. The 5-year-old Bayou the Moon was bumped from both sides at the head of the lane, rallied, and missed by a nose. Trained by Richard Mandela, Bayou the Moon has lost his last three photo finishes, but enters in sharp form. He has won 3 of 13.

Soud may be the controlling speed. He lost nine in a row to start his career, but this year has won 3 of 5 for trainer Neil Drysdale. Doc Holiday and Trompolino round out the field.

Seven runners entered race 6, and the four leading contenders all have the same style. In a race that could melt down in favor of a stretch-runner, the choice is 3-year-old Shadow of Illinois. He stormed to a visually impressive first-condition victory June 19, winning by four lengths. Shadow of Illinois is drawn outside his three pace foes - F J's Pace, Hurricane Smoke, and Sporting Lad - and might be able to put away his rivals on the turn. If not, he will be caught four wide in no-man's land.