06/30/2002 11:00PM

Stepping-stone to Oceanside


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Wednesday's fifth race at Hollywood Park offers a preview of the $100,000 Oceanside Stakes at Del Mar on July 24.

The Oceanside is a restricted race for nonwinners of a first-place purse of $50,000 this year, which none of the 10 3-year-olds in Wednesday's $50,000 allowance race/optional claimer has accomplished.

No one will lose that eligibility with a win on Wednesday, but a win would enhance a horse's chance of being selected if the Oceanside is oversubscribed.

The contenders for Wednesday's race include Diamond Hope, second in the Diamond A USA Stakes at Lone Star Park on May 27; Wheels N Wings, third in the Alydar Stakes at Hollywood Park on May 23; and Stormed, a maiden winner on dirt on May 30.

Run over a mile on turf, the race also includes a provision for optional claimers at $100,000, but had only one entrant in that category - Six Hitter.

Trained by Bobby Frankel, Six Hitter was a stakes winner in Italy last year and was fifth in his U.S. debut in the Grade 3 Ascot Handicap at Bay Meadows on May 12. He has been entered in the past for claiming prices, but was scratched.

Even though Stormed is only a maiden winner, he may go favored. Trained by John Shirreffs for The Thoroughbred Corp., Stormed was unplaced in two starts at Santa Anita, but showed considerable improvement when he won by five lengths over 1 1/16 miles on May 30.

Diamond Hope will be well-backed. Trained by Richard Mandella, he has been kept to turf this year, with one win in five starts. Diamond Hope won a maiden race at Santa Anita on March 23, and lost two consecutive races to Regiment - an allowance race/optional claimer at Santa Anita on April 11 and a runner-up finish in the Lone Star Park race, where he had the early lead.

Regiment returned on Sunday to finish second by a nose in the Cinema Breeders' Cup Handicap at Hollywood.

Bob Baffert trains Regiment and Wheels N Wings. This will be Wheels N Wings's first start on turf.

Aside from Six Hitter, there are three ex-Europeans in the field - Ridley, Gold Point and Dark Sorcerer, all of whom are looking for their first wins in the United States.

Dark Sorcerer has the best form in the U.S. of that group, having finished third in the Baldwin Stakes on the hillside turf course at Santa Anita on Feb. 24. He has lost three subsequent starts for trainer Carla Gaines.