12/20/2007 12:00AM

Paging Golden State warriors

EmailINGLEWOOD, Calif. - There is no reason not to believe the management of Hollywood Park when they say they will race again in 2008. Dates have been assigned for both the summer and fall meetings, and the track is scheduled to stay open during the off-season for training, as usual.

Still, since Hollywood is owned by a real estate investment company that is preparing to pull the curtain on 73 years of history at Bay Meadows, its other California property, there is no reason to be overly confident that racing will take place at Hollywood Park after Saturday. Even so, were the inevitable end to come sooner than later, at least Hollywood Park would go out with a bang. The $750,000 CashCall Futurity on Saturday has come together as one of the most attractive 2-year-old events of the 2007 season, assembling such late-inning developments as Colonel John, Massive Drama, Into Mischief, Indian Sun, Eaton's Gift, and Meal Penalty.

They have been lured in large part by the influx of sponsorship money from Paul Reddam's loan company, CashCall, where rates are far from subprime - no crisis there - but the quick-draw loans themselves are often high risk for the lender. Reddam, a dedicated Thoroughbred owner with a taste for the big events, will be represented by the durable and sardonically named Overextended, who is making his ninth start of the season.

With CashCall's help, the Futurity has been restored to the financial status it enjoyed in its youth. Commencing life in 1981 as a $715,100 event, the race quickly rose to the million-dollar level and stayed there until 1991.

The winners of those million-dollar futurities included three runners bred in California - Best Pal, Snow Chief, and Fali Time - and all three of them went on to compete admirably as 3-year-olds. Fali Time defeated Gate Dancer in the 1984 San Felipe Handicap and then was a troubled fourth in Swale's Kentucky Derby. Snow Chief won the Santa Anita Derby, the Florida Derby, the Preakness, the Jersey Derby, and the 3-year-old championship of 1986, while Best Pal was second in the 1991 Kentucky Derby to Strike the Gold and later defeated older horses in the Pacific Classic.

If Sierra Sunset is going to follow in their large hoofprints, the CashCall Futurity would be a good place to start. After recent victories in the Bay Meadows Juvenile and the California Cup Juvenile, he is a colt of rising expectations.

"He was a bit of a handful early on," said Jeff Bonde, who trains Sierra Sunset for the partnership of Phil Lebherz, George Schmitt, Al Mariani, and Carol Wirth. "He was making a lot of mental errors, but as the distances stretched out, he seemed to get better. He's a lot more professional now."

Bonde, 53, is a third-generation horseman and Northern California stalwart who has trained such stakes winners as Mr. Doubledown, Ranger, Epic Honor, High Tech Friend, and the 2-year-old version of Spain. He described Sierra Sunset, a $40,000 yearling, as "a well-made, well-balanced, medium-sized horse who looks a lot like most of the Bertrandos."

Sierra Sunset, bred by Pam and Marty Wygod in the Santa Ynez Valley, has been on a steadily improving arc since August, when he finished second in the Cavonnier Juvenile Stakes at the Santa Rosa fair. Cavonnier himself showed up for the races that day in all his ceremonial splendor, after making the short trip from his home at the Vine Hill Ranch of Barbara Walter, and if the kids were smart, they paid attention. In 1996, flying the flag of Northern California, Cavonnier lost the Kentucky Derby by the smallest margin in the 122-year history of the classic, when Grindstone lipped him on the line. Ouch.

In the 45 years since the California-bred Decidedly won the 1962 Derby, Cavonnier's narrow defeat rests atop a large pile of frustrations suffered by natives of the West. Snow Chief was favored and fizzled. Hill Rise and Rumbo, in addition to Best Pal, were heartbreaking seconds, while Candy Spots, The Scoundrel, Golden Act, Jaklin Klugman, Free House, and Indian Charlie managed to hit the board.

Sierra Sunset, a colt with early speed, drew the inside of 14 entered for the Futurity, which gave Bonde plenty to think about without going down memory lane.

"It's a very tough race, there's no question," he said. Bonde said post 1 "is better than the far outside, I'm sure, and at a mile and a sixteenth he'll have enough time to set himself up in position. After that, you just hope you have some racing luck, and he's good enough."

It is much too early to talk about any of the 2-year-olds in the CashCall Futurity as Derby horses, but that won't stop anyone from doing it. Those who run well on Saturday will find themselves in the crosshairs of Derby speculation even before they cool out. Bonde won't mind if Sierra Sunset is part of the conversation.

"From here in, every race is a test," he said. "The good ones sort themselves out. You've got to kind of mix your hopes and dreams with reality, and hopefully, you get your turn with a horse who's good enough."