12/03/2003 1:00AM

Still some top action in store


ARCADIA, Calif. - The height of the 2003 race season has passed, but there is still plenty of important racing to be done. There are four Grade 1 stakes races in December, all in California, all within the span of one week at the end of the month.

At Hollywood Park, the closing weekend of its fall meeting features two Grade 1 races for 2-year-olds, the Hollywood Futurity on Dec. 20 and the Hollywood Starlet for fillies on closing day, Dec. 21. The Starlet is shaping up as an intriguing race, with Victory U. S. A., the recent winner of Hollywood's Moccasin Stakes on Nov. 16, expected to head the field.

Victory U. S. A. continued on course for the Starlet on Wednesday at Santa Anita, when she worked five furlongs in 1:00.40 with exercise rider Dana Barnes on a gorgeous, clear morning. The work followed by three days a visit Victory U. S. A. made to Hollywood Park, where trainer Bob Baffert put her through a schooling session. Horses racing at Hollywood Park must walk around the far turn from the stable area and pass a children's play area before arriving at the paddock.

"The other day she had a meltdown," Baffert said, referring to when Victory U. S. A. won the Moccasin, "but she still ran great. She was fine until she got by the jungle gym, with the kids running around."

Victory U. S. A. will meet at least one and perhaps two fillies trained by Patrick Biancone. Biancone said Rings and Things, a recent maiden winner, is on course for the race, and Saratoga stakes winner Whoopi Cat is progressing nicely after suffering a foot abscess in September.

"The abscess takes time. With feet, it's just a question of time," Biancone said Wednesday morning at Santa Anita. "I will run one, or the other, or both."

Olmodovar stretching out

After traveling to Hong Kong last weekend to saddle Johar in the Japan Cup, Richard Mandella returned to California and set about finalizing preparations with Olmodovar for Saturday's Grade 3, $100,000 Native Diver Handicap at Hollywood Park.

Olmodovar, who earlier this year finished second to Medaglia d'Oro in Santa Anita's Strub Stakes, and second to Mineshaft in the New Orleans Handicap at Fair Grounds, returned from a 7 1/2-month layoff with a sprint prep Oct. 26 at Santa Anita. He now stretches out to 1 1/16 miles for the Native Diver, which should suit Olmodovar, a lightly raced son of A.P. Indy.

"The comeback race was a little too short," Mandella said. "I had thought about taking him to New York for the Cigar Mile, but just decided to stay here."

In addition to Olmodovar, the Native Diver field is expected to be Buckland Manor, Chinkapin, Nose the Trade, Tizbud, and Total Impact, and possibly Gift of the Eagle and Legendary Weave.

Busy schedule for Espinoza

Victor Espinoza, who will ride Tizbud in the Native Diver, is racking up the frequent flyer miles.

He was in Tokyo on Sunday to ride Sarafan in the Japan Cup, returned in time to ride that day at Hollywood Park, and is going to Delta Downs in Louisiana for Friday's $1 million Delta Jackpot.

After riding Tizbud, he will stick around to ride Star Parade in Sunday's Grade 2, $150,000 Bayakoa Handicap. He then leaves Monday for Hong Kong, where he will ride in an international jockey competition on Wednesday, and then ride Sarafan in the Hong Kong Mile on Dec. 14.

Alex Solis, who rode Johar in the Japan Cup, said the trip knocked him out.

"On Monday I felt like I was drunk," he said. "I slept Tuesday until 10:30, and the only reason I got up then is because my wife said my agent was trying to reach me."

Wednesday morning, wearing a Japan Cup jacket, Solis said, "I feel great now."

Different schedules for Cup winners

Johar, who dead-heated for victory in the Breeders' Cup Turf, was one of four horses with whom Mandella won Breeders' Cup races on Oct. 25, and he was the first to return to the races. The other three - Action This Day, Halfbridled, and Pleasantly Perfect - all will not race again until early next year.

Action This Day on Tuesday worked a slow three furlongs as he eases back into serious training. It was his first work since his victory in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. "He's just starting back. I might look at something like the Santa Catalina," Mandella said, referring to a 1 1/16-mile stakes race at Santa Anita on Jan. 17.

Halfbridled, who completed a perfect season with her victory in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies, has yet to work since that race. "She was pretty wound up. We wanted to settle her down," Mandella said. "It's normal with most fillies who have run three or four times. We didn't want her to get too serious. We want her to keep a sense of humor."

Pleasantly Perfect, who won the Breeders' Cup Classic, will likely make his first start of 2004 on Jan. 31 in the San Antonio Handicap, a major prep for the $1 million Santa Anita Handicap on March 6.

Harty heads for Dubai, briefly

Trainer Eoin Harty is leaving this week for a one-week trip to Dubai, where he will help in the transition of his top 2-year-olds to Saeed bin Suroor, who will train them next year at age 3.

Among the horses leaving for Dubai are the colt Rulers Court, who won the Norfolk Stakes, and the filly Tizdubai, who won Del Mar's Sorrento Stakes. The promising colt Rosberg, and filly Possession, are also bound for Dubai.

"It's just to make sure we're all on the same page," Harty said of his trip.

In years past, Harty spend the winter in Dubai, and returned to Southern California in the spring with a new crop of 2-year-olds. This winter, he will remain in Southern California, where he is training 40 horses for Sheikh Mohammed's Darley Stud.

* Hollywood Park will have its 12th annual Snow Day on Saturday, from 7:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. in the infield. Admission is free for parents accompanied by a child age 12 or under. Hollywood Park trucks in 300 tons of snow for the event, which is popular in the local community. Children can partake of pony rides, face painters, various games, and visits with Santa Claus.

* Got Koko, who finished third in the Breeders' Cup Distaff, worked five furlongs in 59.60 seconds for trainer Bruce Headley on Wednesday at Santa Anita. It was the fourth-best time of 44 at the distance.

* Peace Rules, who finished last as the favorite in the Breeders' Cup Mile, worked a swift half-mile in 46.60 seconds on Wednesday at Hollywood Park for trainer Bobby Frankel. His time was the best of 16 at the distance, and the only one that was under 48 seconds. He is pointing for a race on the Sunshine Millions card.