06/14/2005 12:00AM

Two tune up for Gold Cup in allowance

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INGLEWOOD, Calif. - The reeling West Coast handicap division could be replenished Saturday at Hollywood Park, where a modest group of older horses - led by Ace Blue and Borrego - will contest the Grade 2 Californian.

Meanwhile, two nominees to the $250,000 Californian follow a path of less resistance by running Thursday in a $58,000 allowance. take on three others in a 1 1/16-mile race with multiple conditions. It is a classified allowance, nonwinners-of-three-other-than, and $100,000 claiming race rolled into one.

The allowance and the Californian lead toward the Grade 1 Hollywood Gold Cup on July 9, yet the handicap division in California is in such dire straits that the Gold Cup favorite may emerge from a race at Churchill Downs - the Grade 1 Stephen Foster, which also will be run Saturday.

The five starters Thursday come from all categories. Preachinatthebar has yet to regain the form that led to a March 2004 win in the Grade 2 San Felipe Stakes, but off a modest second-level allowance win last out he should be favored over class-dropping closer Outta Here, sprinters Pt's Grey Eagle and Fairly Crafty, and comebacker .

Preachinatthebar comes into the race on an upward pattern. Trained by Bob Baffert, the 4-year-old Preachinatthebar had been off nearly eight months when he returned in a March 31 sprint at Santa Anita and ran fourth. His fast finish and strong gallop-out led to favoritism three weeks later when he was fourth again, a disappointing finish considering he was favored.

Preachinatthebar stretched out to 1 1/16 miles May 8 and won by a grinding three-quarters of a length. He earned a modest 95 Beyer Speed Figure, and though the second- and third-place finishers returned to win, their efforts are suspect. Runner-up Melanyhasthepapers returned to finish second in a two-other-than allowance, but was moved up on a disqualification; third-place Fonz's came back to win a $62,500 claiming race.

Nevertheless, Preachinatthebar has more tactical speed than his main rival, and could fall into a cozy trip behind the sprinters, and in front of the closers.

Outta Here drops from graded stakes. His sixth-place finish last out was partly the result of mistaken strategy. He was not asked to run until late, and finished sixth. Outta Here, trained by Bill Currin, has won three races and $637,652 from 23 starts. Fairly Crafty and Pt's Grey Eagle stretch out; 2004 Snow Chief Stakes winner Cheiron will be finishing.