05/24/2004 12:00AM

Turf match boils down to two


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Balestrini and Fantastic Spain, 4-year-olds expected to play a role in major turf stakes later this year, seek their first win of 2004 in a $50,000 allowance race at Hollywood Park on Wednesday.

They are expected to dominate the turf race over 1 1/4 miles, which has drawn seven entrants.

won his debut by three lengths last June over 1 1/16 miles on turf. He was beaten a nose in an allowance race over the same distance on May 8 in his third start.

scored his first win in the Group 3 Ballysax Stakes in Ireland in April 2003 and later finished fifth in the Epsom Derby. He was fourth as a heavy favorite in his U.S. debut, a one-mile allowance race on April 28.

Both seem capable of handling 1 1/4 miles. Fantastic Spain was pulling away when he beat maidens last year. In his last start, Fantastic Spain rallied wide in the final half-mile, reached the front but could not pull away from Ibero Grace.

"He made the lead, and it looked like he would win," trainer Kristin Mulhall said. "He got nailed on the wire. Once he figures it out, he will be a really nice horse. He'll learn."

Balestrini was beaten three lengths in the April 28 race. After a slow start, he rallied well in the final half-mile, but did not threaten the winner, Fabulous West. The one-mile distance was probably too short for Balestrini's best effort. The Ballysax Stakes was over 1 1/4 miles on turf. In three subsequent starts, all Group 1 stakes, he raced between 1 1/4 miles and 1 1/2 miles.

With so many of the lucrative turf stakes in the late summer and fall, Balestrini's trainer, Neil Drysdale, is taking a cautious approach to Wednesday's race.

"I think he has the potential to be a good horse," Drysdale said. "It may take a race or two to get going."

The other five starters are Astarak, Glad Hunter, Roberto's Show, Sheikh Fever, and Sublet.

Roberto's Show was second to Fabulous West on April 28. He has spent most of his career racing at distances of 1 1/16 miles or shorter.

Trainer Bobby Frankel starts Astarak, who was stakes placed in France in 2002 and is winless in three starts this year. Glad Hunter, a stakes winner in Germany last year, is a longshot making his U.S. debut.