06/30/2003 11:00PM

Total Limit looks like total lock

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INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Hollywood Park rolls out the red carpet Thursday for comebacker Total Limit, who meets a paceless field in a three-other-than optional $80,000 claiming race at 6 1/2 furlongs. Runner-up by a head in the Grade 1 Malibu Stakes in December, Total Limit figures to establish a lonely lead, which he will gladly accept in the seventh-race feature.

Five other horses entered, none are front-runners, at least two are off form, and one is a grass horse. It adds up to the obvious: Total Limit, working well for trainer Gary Mandella and proven fresh, should race gate to wire under Alex Solis.

His rivals are Rushin' to Altar, a late-running comebacker trained by Ron McAnally; Boss Ego, another comebacker, trained by Jerry Hollendorfer; American System and Elaborate, both off form; and turf horse Los Solano, claimed for $80,000 last time out off a fifth-place finish.

Total Limit established his credentials early when he finished second in a fast maiden race during the fall Oak Tree meet. He rolled through his first two conditions, winning a maiden race in a quick 1:08.40 and following with a front-running win in a turf sprint. Thrown to the wolves in the Grade 1 Malibu on Dec. 26 for his fourth start, Total Limit did everything but win. He pressed the pace while wide throughout in the seven-furlong race and put away the speed, but got nailed late.

A son of Boundary owned by Herman Sarkowsky, Total Limit scored a decisive win one month later in a two-other-than allowance, then succumbed to pace pressure and was unplaced in the Grade 1 San Carlos Handicap on March 2. It was his sixth start in five months, and he was ready for a rest. Mandella gave it to him, and Total Limit's recent workouts have been sharp.

There have been 16 wire-to-wire winners from 45 races this meet at 6 1/2 furlongs.

American System once would have given the favorite a fight, but he has run poorly in all four starts since a good third in the Malibu. Elaborate, an 8-year-old, also appears off form. Winner of the Triple Bend Handicap in 2000, Elaborate finished a no-threat fourth in a similar spot May 14.

The exacta figures to be completed by Rushin' to Altar or Boss Ego, with Los Solano afforded a longshot chance.