12/03/2003 1:00AM

Thunder Bullet tries mile for first time


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - A surprisingly strong optional-claiming race featuring the crack sprinter Thunder Bullet and the well-regarded South American import Recordado tops Friday's eight-race card at Hollywood Park.

Thirteen were entered in the one-mile grass race, but only 12 can run. Handicappers trying to stay alive in the pick six may have to use several runners, as this field is deep in both quantity and quality.

Thunder Bullet will try to stretch his speed around two turns. He has done it successfully already, except that it was on the bullring at Fairplex in the 6 1/2-furlong Aprisa Handicap in September. This will be his first start at one mile.

Thunder Bullet has won half of his 10 grass races. Two of his more recent losses have been against his Jeff Mullins-trained stablemate, King Robyn. Thunder Bullet finished fourth to King Robyn in the Morvich Handicap at Santa Anita's Oak Tree meeting on Oct. 24. He is out of allowance conditions, but is eligible for this race because Mullins has entered him for a $100,000 claiming price.

Recordado, who won three times in four starts in his native Argentina, is making his first start for trainer Ron McAnally, who has an outstanding record with South American imports. Recordado is by Candy Stripes, who is also the dam sire of McAnally's Pacific Classic winner, Candy Ride. Recordado won the Group 1 Argentine 2000 Guineas last year.

Tradition Rocks was fourth in a similar spot at Santa Anita's Oak Tree meeting on Oct. 9. He had won his two previous starts and remains highly regarded by his trainer, Julio Canani.

Buckland Manor is entered in the race, but is a possible starter in Saturday's Native Diver Handicap instead. He has won his last two starts on the turf against lesser allowance foes. If trainer Paco Gonzalez wants to keep him on turf, he can run here. If he wants to move Buckland Manor to the main track, he can go in the Native Diver.

Willie the Cat is an intriguing prospect. He won all three of his starts at Emerald Downs last year, but he has not raced since June 2002. Trainer Doug O'Neill could have run this gelding just about anywhere, so the fact that he is protecting him by running him in an allowance race can be interpreted as a sign of confidence. Willie the Cat has sharp early speed and should be forwardly placed, along with Thunder Bullet.

Rock Opera is making his second start since returning from a 10 1/2-month layoff. He finished last in the Morvich after a wide trip but has a right to improve.