11/23/2001 12:00AM

Startac vs. Frankel's fab four


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Based on sheer volume, trainer Bobby Frankel should win the Grade 1 Hollywood Derby on Sunday at Hollywood Park.

Frankel starts four of the 14 runners in the $500,000 derby, each with fitting credentials. Denon's European form makes him the likeliest winner. He will be coupled with Aldebaran, who crushed older in his United States debut at Belmont. Frankel also starts Bay Meadows Derby winner Blue Steller, and Mizzen Mast, who is being wheeled back in 18 days after a win in a scorching 1:34.15 for a mile.

It's a fearful foursome, but no one is conceding Frankel the 1 1/8-mile turf race for 3-year-olds. Grade 1 winner Startac is rounding into form for new trainer Laura de Seroux. Homeland arrived Tuesday from France, where his latest win was against older in a Group 3. And Sligo Bay is in form and already a graded winner on this course.

"It's the strongest turf race of the year for 3-year-olds," said de Seroux, whose Startac presents the main challenge for Frankel's foursome. Startac has endured his share of recent turmoil - an ill-advised dirt campaign, a trainer change after winning the Grade 1 Secretariat, and a sixth-place comeback Oct. 13. De Seroux expects Startac to reproduce top form Sunday.

"He's as good as I could hope for," De Seroux said. "His last race kicked him into the zone."

In a six-furlong turf work one week ago, Startac relaxed perfectly under new jockey Mike Smith, rating behind a workmate and finishing strong. In his comeback race he pressed the pace and wilted. Said de Seroux: "The old Startac, the one who comes from the clouds, will be there Sunday."

Startac must produce a career best to knock off Frankel's latest import. Denon arrived in early September to prepare specifically for Sunday.

"Off his European form, he's the best of the four," Frankel said. "What that means here is nothing."

It only means expectations are high. The son of Pleasant Colony won 2 of 6 in Europe, earning outstanding Timeform ratings. He and entrymate Aldebaran, by Mr. Prospector, possess pedigrees that give Frankel the option of switching them to dirt.

Mizzen Mast enters off a 1:34.15 mile, fastest of the meet by more than a second. He did not beat much winning the Nov. 7 stakes by daylight.

Homeland will remain in the U.S. with trainer Ben Cecil following the derby. A potential upsetter is Learing at Kathy, who may return to the main track this winter.