06/08/2001 12:00AM

Separata, Chilean flash

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INGLEWOOD, Calif.- Battle-tested at Santa Anita and Churchill Downs earlier this spring, Separata will be difficult to oppose in Sunday's $75,000 Great Lady M. Handicap at Hollywood Park.

A 5-year-old Chilean-bred mare, Separata won the Mamzelle Stakes at Churchill Downs in her last start on May 3, setting a course record of 55.92 seconds for five furlongs. That victory, combined with her second to Go Go in the Las Cienegas Handicap on April 8, will make her a short-priced favorite in the Great Lady M., run over 5 1/2 furlongs on turf.

"I suspect she'll be tough," trainer Richard Mandella said.

Owned by Gerald Ford's Diamond A Racing Corp., Separata has won three of five starts since arriving from Chile in late 1999.

She customarily leads from the start. In the Mamzelle Stakes, she was always in front and had a two-length advantage after a quarter-mile. It may be more difficult to have that much of a lead in the Great Lady M. Fair Apache, who was third behind Separata in the Winter Solstice Stakes at Santa Anita in February, has speed. Those two may be joined on the lead by Dusty Heather, who was third in an allowance race on the turf at Hollywood Park on April 27.

The Great Lady M. is the first of three stakes on Sunday's 10-race program, which begins at noon. The main stakes are the $500,000 Californian Stakes and the $350,000 Charles Whittingham Handicap.

Training center plans presented

An extensive plan to redevelop part of the Del Mar backstretch and build a training center on grounds a few miles from the racetrack was presented to a master planning committee of the Del Mar Fair on Tuesday.

First discussed last year, the plan faces several hurdles before gaining approval. Later this year, a team of environmental, traffic, and civil engineers will develop a final plan that will undergo an environmental review, according to Del Mar vice-president Craig Fravel.

The most significant proposal is the construction of a training center that would accommodate 500 to 700 horses and would be based inland from the racetrack, near the Del Mar HorsePark. The ground is currently owned by the city of San Diego.

The lack of a training track has hurt Del Mar in the past, causing the main track to be overcrowded during morning training.

Del Mar president Joe Harper said the current training center plan could face opposition from environmental interests.

"I was hopeful with some of the things I heard," he said. "Sometimes, these things can be a bloodfest. They certainly had an opportunity to jump on the training center. While they did say they were against anything in the river valley, I told them what we had in mind was on the same grounds as the polo grounds. The door was definitely left ajar.

"Environmentally, I'd rather see horses galloping around instead of houses being built."

The proposal was supported at Tuesday's hearing by trainer Richard Mandella, John Van de Kamp, the president of the Thoroughbred Owners of California; and Bob Lewis, the TOC chairman.

Other highlights of the plan call for the replacement of several existing barns; the development of a horsemen's center that would include a cafe and a patio overlooking the racetrack; more landscaping for the infield; and an expansion of the turf course to allow additional rail settings. Some development of the backstretch could begin this fall, according to Fravel.

"We did not want to do anything predating this process," he said.

Trifectas refunded

Trifecta bets on Thursday's seventh race at Hollywood Park were refunded because the six-furlong sprint did not have the required five finishers. Six started, but Hopewell Heart broke down entering the stretch and Champ's Star was pulled up on the backstretch. California rules state that at least five horses must finish for a trifecta bet to be paid.

Bullet work for General Challenge

General Challenge, the winner of the 2000 Santa Anita Handicap who has not started since finishing fourth in the Pacific Classic last August, continued his comeback with a bullet workout at Santa Anita on Friday.

The 5-year-old General Challenge zipped five furlongs in 58.60 seconds, the fastest of 29 recorded works at the distance. Trained by Bob Baffert for John and Betty Mabee's Golden Eagle Farm, General Challenge may start before the end of the current Hollywood Park meeting.