12/21/2002 12:00AM

O'Neill's career year


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - The pathway between the barns of trainers Doug O'Neill and Bobby Frankel at Hollywood Park spans about a quarter-mile, but it's getting shorter. O'Neill on Friday was on course to beat out Frankel and claim the training title at this track's fall meet, which closes on Sunday.

He also trudged through the mud on Friday morning to look at a horse for private purchase.

"I'm picking up his crumbs," O'Neill said, joking.

This has been a breakout year for the 34-year-old O'Neill. He won the biggest race of his career when Sky Jack captured the Grade 1 Hollywood Gold Cup. He sent Avanzado to New York where he captured the Forest Hills Handicap at Belmont Park. He won his first meet training title at Fairplex Park in Pomona.

And, assuming he holds on to the seemingly insurmountable six-win lead he had over Frankel entering Friday's races, O'Neill on Sunday will win his first training title at a major Southern California meet.

"Pomona was awesome, but Del Mar, Hollywood Park, and Santa Anita are regarded as the top three," O'Neill said. "Winning here would be incredible. I hope we can pull it off. We've still got a few more days."

Avanzado's success in this country has given O'Neill the opportunity to acquire more horses from South America. Two recent arrivals are Meguial, a 3-year-old Roy filly who is Group 1-placed, and South Apple, a 4-year-old daughter of Southern Halo who is placed in group company. South Apple is owned by Cee's Stable - the partnership run by Michael Cooper - which also owns Avanzado. Both Meguial and South Apple are eligible for entry-level allowance races, O'Neill said.

As for Avanzado, he has recovered from his poor performance in last month's De Francis Dash and will return in the El Conejo Handicap on Jan. 1, O'Neill said. His rivals are expected to include Kona Gold.

"He didn't handle the Laurel track at all," O'Neill said. "It was like six inches of goo. He's got a big, good-looking foot, and he just struggled on it."

Rain washes out training

Another heavy rainstorm hit Southern California on Thursday night and lingered into Friday morning, which caused Hollywood Park to close the main track for training for the second time this week.

The track also was closed for training Tuesday and, as track management predicted, the surface was in fine shape for racing on Wednesday and Thursday. Some of those who criticized the track for being closed for training on Tuesday said they were satisfied with the decision to close it on Friday.

The track on Friday, labeled wet-fast, was extremely quick. First race winner Rough R.N., a starter-allowance runner, ran 6 1/2 furlongs in 1:14.69.

As on Tuesday, the training track was open on Friday. "The track washed out Tuesday, but they fixed it, and it's been better," said trainer Alfredo Marquez, whose barn abuts the training track.

The wet weather did wreak havoc with Friday afternoon's card. All three races scheduled for the turf were moved to the main track, and there were eight scratches out of those races, reducing the fields to six, five, and five. On an eight-race card, there were 49 runners, an average of just more than six per race.

Sarafan packing bags again

Sarafan, the hard-luck loser of both the Japan Cup and Hong Kong Cup, has returned to Hollywood Park, where he will train this winter before embarking on his next adventure.

Neil Drysdale, who trains Sarafan, said Sarafan's major goal this spring would be the $2 million Dubai Duty Free in the United Arab Emirates in March.

"That's the next target," Drysdale said. "He'd have a prep before Dubai. And if he's bouncing all over the place, I'll race him."

Sarafan was still in quarantine at Hollywood Park on Friday. Horses returning from Hong Kong must remain in quarantine for 48 hours, according to the United States Department of Agriculture.

Sarafan, a gelding, turns 6 on Jan. 1.

"He should have a couple more years in him. And touch wood," Drysdale said, reaching over to rap on a door frame, "he's sound."

Super High faces surgery

Super High, the winner of four stakes this year, including the California Cup Matron at Santa Anita last month, has been sidelined with injury, trainer Carla Gaines said.

The 3-year-old Super High suffered a saucer fracture of a shin and will be out for four months following surgery. The injury was detected earlier this week, Gaines said.

"She had a fast workout at Santa Anita and then came up with this after," she said.

A California-bred, she was being pointed for the $750,000 Sunshine Millions Distaff at Santa Anita on Jan. 25.

Owned by John Harris, Super High has won 6 of 13 starts and $462,348. Earlier this year, she won the California Sires Stakes and Flawlessly Stakes at Hollywood Park and later scored a front-running win against older fillies and mares in the Solana Beach Handicap at Del Mar.

Gaines estimated that Super High will be able to return next summer.

* Sigfreto, the winner of the Phil Shepherd Stakes at Fairplex Park in September, held off a stretch-long rally by Tracemark to win a $58,000 allowance race on Friday.

Ridden by Jose Valdivia Jr., Sigfreto ($10) ran 1 1/16 miles in 1:41.50 and won by a head. High Wire Act finished third in the field of five. Tracemark was the 4-5 favorite.

The winner of the California Derby last April at Bay Meadows, Tracemark was returning from a five-month layoff.

* It's starting to look a lot like Christmas in the track stable kitchen. Money was donated by the track in order to buy proper ornaments for a Christmas tree, replacing the coffee lids and cash-register receipts that had adorned the tree earlier in the week.

- additional reporting by Steve Andersen