07/17/2002 11:00PM

Unwritten rule broken?

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INGLEWOOD, Calif. - The California Horse Racing Board is conducting an investigation into whether trainer Doug O'Neill started three horses in a turf sprint on May 10 at Hollywood Park, exceeding a custom that limits trainers to two runners in overnight races.

O'Neill won the second race on May 10 with Rainman's Request and finished fifth with Half Wild. He has been accused of being the actual trainer of Affirm Cat as well. Affirm Cat was listed as being trained by Armando Lage; he finished fourth.

Affirm Cat, owned by David Lanzman, had been trained by O'Neill last year.

Following the May 10 race, Affirm Cat made two more starts for Lage, racing at Bay Meadows and Hollywood Park. On July 13, Affirm Cat ran fifth in the Carry Back Stakes at Calder while racing for Leandro Mora, who is an assistant trainer to O'Neill.

The stewards are expected to issue a decision in the case no later than Sunday, the final day of the meeting.

On July 13, Hollywood Park stewards Pete Pedersen, George Slender, and Tom Ward heard testimony from O'Neill, Lage, and racing secretary Martin Panza. The hearing occurred a day before O'Neill won the richest race of his career - the $750,000 Hollywood Gold Cup with Sky Jack.

CHRB senior investigator Mike Kilpack presented a case on behalf of the board, but declined to comment on Thursday, pending a stewards' decision. "I don't want to say anything until the case is closed," he said.

Kilpack argued his case using a rule that states, in part, that if a case is not covered by specific rules, then "it shall be determined by the stewards in conformity with justice and in the interest of racing."

Customarily, trainers are allowed to start up to two horses in overnight races, but are permitted to run more in stakes races, according to track officials. Ward called the two-starter policy an "unwritten house rule." It is not expressly stated in the condition book.

O'Neill said he was surprised that a hearing was conducted, considering that the issue was brought to his attention on May 10 by officials.

"They had an investigation that day and said I was okay," O'Neill said. "This is costing me time and money. I've got horses for Lage in my barn all the time."

Like a Hero points for Travers

, second to Came Home in the Swaps Stakes last Saturday, and Century City, a group stakes winner in Ireland last weekend, will make their next starts in the $1 million Travers Stakes at Saratoga on Aug. 24, trainer Beau Greely said.

Like a Hero was beaten 1 1/4 lengths by Came Home in the Swaps, which was run over 1 1/8 miles. In the Belmont Stakes last month, Like a Hero finished a nonthreatening seventh over 1 1/2 miles, his first appearance in a graded stakes.

"He's doing well, and I think he'll benefit from the added distance," Greely said referring to the Travers distance of 1 1/4 miles.

Century City won the Group 2 Goffs International Stakes at The Curragh in Ireland last weekend. Earlier this year, he was second in the Irish 2000 Guineas and won two stakes.

Greely said Century City will go straight to Saratoga and won't be based in California.

Frankel to send two in Sunset

The $250,000 Sunset Handicap is the main race on Sunday, the final day of the Hollywood Park spring-summer meeting.

Run over 1 1/2 miles on turf, the Sunset is expected to include two starters from the stable of leading trainer Bobby Frankel - Super Quercus and Lord Flasheart.

Super Quercus has won his last three starts, including the Grade 1 Hollywood Turf Cup over 1 1/2 miles here last December. He won an allowance race/optional claimer in his 2002 debut on June 30.

Lord Flasheart does not have the credentials. In three starts since arriving from France, he was fifth in the San Marcos Stakes at Santa Anita in January, his only stakes appearance in the U.S.

Winter for Tracemark

Tracemark, second to Came Home in the Affirmed Handicap on June 23 but sixth in the Swaps Stakes, is being pointed for a winter campaign, trainer Craig Dollase said.

A winner of 2 of 16 starts and $292,044, Tracemark will be pointed for the three-race Strub Series for 4-year-olds at Santa Anita in the winter.

- Thursday's eight-race program was compromised by 13 scratches, leaving only 53 runners. There were multiple reasons for the scratches: There were horses without registration papers on file, sick and injured horses, and horses treated with medicines that could produce postrace tests. Two trainers with scratched horses, Richard Lewis and Kintai Yuelapwan, were fined $200 on Thursday for making late declarations. Their horses were listed as scratched for medication reasons.