05/21/2008 12:00AM

Pace key for South Coast in allowance

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INGLEWOOD, Calif. - The pace of the opening quarter-mile of the seventh race at Hollywood Park on Friday evening will play a major role in determining if South Coast can win a $53,000 allowance race at a mile on turf.

A 5-year-old gelding, South Coast is a confirmed front-runner who could lead throughout - if he is not pressured too much by any of his seven rivals.

Such a scenario led to second-place finishes in similar races at Santa Anita on April 4 and here on April 25.

"He got softened up early in the first part," trainer Marty Jones said.

This time, South Coast may not face as much competition early. At least, that's what Jones is hoping.

"The first quarter-mile is really important to him, if he doesn't have to work too hard," Jones said.

Owned by breeders John Nicoletti, Don Valpredo, and Harris Farms, South Coast has won 2 of 8 starts and $60,080. He won his debut going 6 1/2 furlongs in a maiden claimer at Santa Anita in February 2007, and improved significantly earlier this year when he was tried in two-turn turf races.

"He likes the grass," Jones said. "He wanted to run long, but we kind of got hung up sprinting. It seems like that is how he wants to run. Hopefully, I can get him through this condition. He's got the will of a good horse."

South Coast could be challenged by Nima's Pad, a 3-year-old gelding who has won his last two starts, both at 1 1/16 miles on the main track - a maiden claimer at Santa Anita on April 14 and a starter allowance here April 23. Friday's race will be Nima's Pad's first start on turf since a 10th-place finish in his career debut here last November.

Of the eight entrants, six started in maiden claimers. Mr. Chairman began his career in such a race, finishing sixth at Del Mar in 2006, and was later purchased privately by Merv Griffin.

Mr. Chairman finished third in the California Cup Starter Handicap at the Oak Tree at Santa Anita meeting in 2006 and was sidelined until last month, when he won a starter allowance on turf at Bay Meadows.

"He was laid up with a leg injury, and we had to give him plenty of time," trainer Doug O'Neill said, declining to elaborate on the details of the injury. "We thought he was in a spot he could win up north, and he exceeded our expectations. The race was visually impressive."