05/26/2010 12:00AM

Ranger Heartley racing with a tag


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Ranger Heartley has turned out to be a dream claim for Dave and Herb Alpert in the last 10 months. Taken for $32,000 last July, the gelding has won the $100,000 California Derby and three other races, earning $126,240.

At a glance, Ranger Heartley's presence in an optional claimer at Hollywood Park on Thursday, in which the 3-year-old gelding is eligible to be claimed for $80,000, would seem alarming, as if the Alperts and trainer John Sadler have given up on his prospects.

Sadler insists that is not necessarily the case. The appearance in the optional claimer is a matter of putting the horse in the right spot.

"It's more about what he's eligible for," Sadler said. "He's not eligible for anything easy, he's won too much. I think this is probably a good spot for him."

Ranger Heartley has not started since finishing last of nine in the Grade 2 Lane's End Stakes at Turfway Park on March 27, a loss that ended any chance of a start in the Kentucky Derby. Before that, he had taken two trips to Golden Gate Fields in January and February. Sadler gave Ranger Heartley a break following the Lane's End.

"He had three consecutive trips out of town," Sadler said.

If he wins on Thursday, Ranger Heartley could run next in a stakes. If he loses, he could start at a lower claiming level.

"It's hard to say," Sadler said, when questioned about stakes prospects. "We had a couple of off races in his last races. We'll take it one race at a time."

Ranger Heartley is part of a field of seven in the second race on an eight-race program.

Ranger Heartley, who will be ridden by Mike Smith, is a front-runner who could face early pressure from Working Capital, runner-up in the Snow Chief Stakes for statebreds on April 24. Trained by Doug O'Neill, Working Capital was claimed for $40,000 from a maiden claimer on March 13 and was fifth in an allowance race for statebreds in his first start for O'Neill on April 1.

There are three entrants who won their last start -- Came Aboard, Deputy Max, and Luv Dragon.

Thursday's card is the first racing day of the week at Hollywood Park, following the cancellation of Wednesday's program because of insufficient entries. The track is offering free general admission on Thursday's program, a promotion that will run through June on Thursdays.