12/09/2003 12:00AM

Out of towners test F J's Pace

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INGLEWOOD, Calif. - The veteran turf sprinter F J's Pace faces challengers from throughout the country when he attempts to win his sixth race of 2003 in Thursday's fifth race at Hollywood Park.

The $44,000 optional claimer at 5 1/2 furlongs on turf has drawn eight runners, including Abderian and Willie the Cat, who are making their first starts in California.

The top contenders with local form are Ecstatic, Mighty Beau, and Puma, who won turf sprints in mid-November, and Gallant, who was seventh in the Morvich Handicap at Santa Anita on Oct. 24.

F J's Pace, 6, has won turf sprints at Del Mar, Hollywood, and Santa Anita this year, but is coming off a disappointing fifth in an optional claimer at 5 1/2 furlongs on turf here Nov. 13. Trained by Doug O'Neill, F J's Pace is entered to be claimed for $100,000. Gallant and Requesto are the other entrants that can be claimed.

Abderian and Willie the Cat deserve respect.

Abderian was recently shipped to trainer Jeff Mullins. He has run in turf sprint stakes in the Midwest and on the East Coast the last few years for trainer Ben Feliciano Jr., winning the Smile Handicap at Arlington Park in 2002. He is winless in nine starts this year, but has placed in six stakes, including a nose loss in the Kentucky Cup Dash at Kentucky Downs and a third in the Woodford County Stakes at Keeneland in October.

Abderian finished first in a minor stakes at Suffolk Downs in the summer but was disqualified for causing interference.

Willie the Cat is unbeaten in three starts, all at Emerald Downs in Washington. Now trained by O'Neill, Willie the Cat has not started since winning an optional claimer at 6 1/2 furlongs in July.

Willie the Cat has shown speed in his brief career, which could trouble F J's Pace, who customarily races on the lead. Mighty Beau also has speed.

A quick pace could help Puma or Ecstatic. Puma won an $80,000 claimer on Nov. 19, rallying from fifth to score by 1 1/4 lengths. Ecstatic scored by three lengths on Nov. 13, closing from sixth.

The seventh race is the feature on an eight-race program that has a total of only 51 entrants.

The dearth of entries is a setback for a meeting that has already seen an 8 percent purse cut after lower-than-expected business. Through Sunday, however, fields were averaging 7.53 starters per race, a small increase from an average of 7.37 starters per race at the 2002 fall meeting.