04/20/2003 11:00PM

Unknowns greet new meet


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - About the only sure thing Wednesday at Hollywood Park is that the 65-day spring-summer racing season begins with a 1:20 p.m. first post.

As the Southern California circuit relocates from Santa Anita to Hollywood Park, familiar uncertainties re-emerge. The Hollywood racing office will strain to fill races; horsemen will choose between stabling at Hollywood or training horses at Santa Anita and shipping crosstown to race; and horseplayers face such blurry variables as track surface and a fresh crop of unraced 2-year-olds. There are plenty of questions.

Some $9.35 million in stakes purses will be offered at the meet, which marks the return of Friday-night racing (May 2 and July 4 excepted). Horse of the Year Azeri is expected to run at least twice, and Santa Anita Handicap winner Milwaukee Brew is aiming for the Gold Cup. Yesterday's stars will share the track with a new division from which racing secretary Martin Panza depends to fill the overnight program.

"I get a little luckier because the 2-year-olds come into play," Panza said.

And they do right away.

While the Wednesday card features the $75,000 Harry Henson Stakes for 3-year-old turf sprinters, two of the eight races are for 2-year-olds at 4 1/2 furlongs. California's best 2-year-olds will not emerge until July at Del Mar, leaving a three-month window of opportunity for speed.

Trainer Mike Harrington won eight races last summer with 2-year-olds sired by Swiss Yodeler; he entered two Wednesday. Harrington trains 22 Swiss Yodeler 2-year-olds, and his expectations are for another big meet.

"You never know until you run them, but they appear to be ready," Harrington said, adding, "they have very good dispositions, and are somewhat precocious." Cleartalker, a full brother to stakes winner My Honey Bunny, debuts in race 3, for California-breds; Queen's Counsel debuts for a $40,000 claiming tag in race 8.

The most active trainer Wednesday is Doug O'Neill, with runners in five races. O'Neill is based at Hollywood and believes that training where the spring-summer meet is held provides an advantage. "It seems easier to ship from Hollywood to Santa Anita, than to ship from Santa Anita to here," he said.

O'Neill starts speed demon Noble Silence in the Harry Henson, the colt's first start since he was laid up last summer with sore shins. "I don't know if he can win, but he's training unbelievable," O'Neill said.

Noble Silence will be ridden by Santa Anita's leading jockey, Pat Valenzuela. Nevertheless, Noble Silence is one of four front-runners in the Harry Henson field. The horse to beat is King Robyn, trained by Jeff Mullins.

The 5 1/2-furlong Harry Henson is run on turf, so that Mullins's horses are based at Santa Anita will not come into play. In dirt races however, it may be a different story. Mullins plans to keep most of his horses at Santa Anita, and acknowledges he may be conceding an edge by not training at Hollywood. "You pretty much have to train on that track to do any good," he said.

King Robyn finished second to Buddy Gil in the Grade 3 Baldwin Stakes on turf, then followed with a front-running win March 22 in the San Pedro Stakes. A winner of 5 of 11 starts, King Robyn looked good in a five-furlong workout Friday morning under jockey Alex Solis. King Robyn breaks from post 7 in the nine-runner field. If able to avoid a pace duel, he can win.

Two main contenders in the Harry Henson are trained by Bobby Frankel. One is Beyond Infinity, who makes his U.S. debut after winning 2 of 5 last year in France. In a race filled with speed, he could be the opportunistic closer. The other is Make My Day Jur, who won twice last summer at Retama Park, was purchased privately, and makes his first start for Frankel and owner Edmund Gann on Wednesday.

Also in the Henson field are Jimmy O, Slew's Prince, Red Apache, Taraval, and Spensive.