06/07/2002 12:00AM

'Park' spotted well on turf

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SAN MATEO, Calif. - If trainer Bob Hess Jr. had a chance to do it over, he wouldn't hesitate to purchase National Park.

National Park, a British-bred 3-year-old gelding, will be the highweight and possible favorite in Sunday's $55,000 Round Table Handicap at one mile on the Longden Turf Course at Bay Meadows.

National Park, who will carry 120 pounds, drew post 5 and will meet five rivals in the race. Stakes-winning Cappuchino, who will carry 119 pounds, will break from the rail as he makes his turf debut. Manahan McLir, Almudin, Blue Slew's Shoes, and Crown the King round out the field.

"He's been quite a nice horse," said Hess, who shipped National Park to his father's barn at Bay Meadows after a solid four-furlong work Tuesday at Santa Anita. "He's real durable. He's traveled well."

National Park won his debut and had two wins and a second in four starts when Hess purchased him last fall. He ran third in the Grade 3 Generous Handicap at Hollywood Park in his U.S. debut last Nov. 24.

He made his 3-year-old debut in the Grade 2 Santa Catalina at Santa Anita on Jan. 19, finishing fourth in the race on the main track. He then shipped to Phoenix for the Turf Paradise Derby, where he finished second on Feb. 2.

Since then, he has run three times on turf, although Hess said, "We could possibly go back to dirt."

National Park ran second in the Academy Road on March 14 at Santa Anita. He then won the Grand Prairie Turf Challenge at Lone Star on April 6 before finishing seventh in the Grade 3 Crown Royal American Turf at Churchill Downs on May 3.

"We've targeted this race since the Churchill race," Hess said.

Hess knew he wasn't getting a champion when he arranged for the purchase of National Park through bloodstock agent Richard Duggan.

He knew he was getting a solid runner who could more than hold his own in non-graded races such as the Ascot, the Academy Road and Grand Prairie Turf Challenge.

"He's pretty much fulfilled our expectations," Hess said.

Hess said he was looking for a 3-year-old who could handle the turf. National Park was available at a good price because his options to run in bigger European stakes events because he is a gelding.

"He may not match up to the best," Hess said. "But he's very good when you put him in with his company."