06/13/2003 12:00AM

'Red' tries to restore his rep


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Last year, Continental Red would have been an odds-on favorite for a race such as Sunday's $100,000 Quicken Tree Stakes at Hollywood Park.

This weekend, in his 50th career start, he is only trying to restore his reputation.

"This time last year he would have scared them off," trainer Ian Jory said. "If you look at his form, he hasn't scared anyone off."

Continental Red earned $540,000 in 2002, the year he was named California-bred horse of the year for owners Wes and Sharon Fitzpatrick. This year, Continental Red has earned $14,000 by finishing eighth in the Sunshine Millions Classic, fifth in the San Luis Obispo Handicap, and sixth in the Jim Murray Handicap.

The conditions of the Quicken Tree could help to end that streak. The race is run over 1 1/2 miles on turf for California-breds. The 7-year-old Continental Red is proven at the distance - he won the Grade 2 San Luis Rey Stakes and placed in several other stakes at the distance, including the 2001 Quicken Tree.

"This is very important," Jory said. "I'll be more nervous running in this race than a Grade 1, because it's crunch time. He should win. It should be well within his reach."

Continental Red drew the rail and will be ridden by Patrick Valenzuela. Last year, Valenzuela rode Continental Red in the San Luis Rey.

The competition includes two winners from the April 26 California Gold Rush Day program - Sea to See, who took the Khaled Stakes, and the 4-year-old filly Shalini, from the Fran's Valentine Stakes.

Lily's Lad, third to Sea to See in the Khaled, is another contender. Trainer John Shirreffs has had the Quicken Tree as a goal for Lily's Lad since the Khaled.

"Lily's Lad is sort of a one-paced horse," Shirreffs said. "We've been doing the long gallops and long works to get him off the bit as much as possible."

Sea to See came from off the pace in the Khaled, and the same strategy is vital to his chances of getting 1 1/2 miles, trainer Doug O'Neill said.

"If you get a hold leaving the gate, I don't think the distance will be a problem," O'Neill said. "The break is the key."

Continental Red can be effective when racing close to the pace. Jory was discouraged to see him at the back of the field in the Murray.

"I didn't want him as far back as he was, and I think that compromised his style," he said. "I sort of threw that race out."