07/04/2001 11:00PM

Use hat pin to pick Bel Air winner


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - The $100,000, Grade 2 Bel Air Handicap Saturday at Hollywood Park is more meaningful to bettors than to the national handicap division.

While the field of seven lacks a standout or a prominent name, the Bel Air is an intriguing betting race with several possible winners, and many unanswered questions.

Can Out of Mind, the 118-pound highweight, or Freedom Crest, the winner of the San Antonio Handicap last February, successfully return from long layoffs?

Are Dig For It and Penamacor ready for graded stakes? Will the minor stakes form of Smile Again, Jorrocks and Lesters Boy translate to a victory in this more important race?

Run over 1 1/16 miles, the Bel Air is the fifth race on a nine-race card that includes two other $100,000 stakes - the Landaluce for 2-year-old fillies and the Royal Heroine for older fillies and mares on turf.

In the Bel Air, Freedom Crest, away for five months, may be a slight favorite over Out of Mind, who is unraced since finishing fourth in the 2000 Hollywood Gold Cup, a layoff caused by a tendon injury.

Doubts over Out of Mind's condition probably were erased by recent workouts, including six furlongs in 1:11 last Sunday, the fastest of 18 works at the distance.

"He breezed awfully well and that's a pretty good sign," said assistant trainer Gary Mandella. "He's given us every reason to think he'll run well."

The 6-year-old Out of Mind won the Mervyn LeRoy Handicap and was second in the Massachusetts Handicap, both in May 2000. A closer, Out of Mind should have plenty of pace to chase with Lesters Boy, Dig For It, and Smile Again in the field. Lesters Boy, who was second in the Khaled Stakes here in late April, is almost certain to lead, while Dig For It, who set a track record over 1 3/16 miles on May 30, can run close to the front.

"I think he can race anyway it comes up," trainer Bruce Headley said.

Penamacor, a Chilean-bred, tries the main track for this first time in the United States, following a fourth and fifth in allowance races on turf for trainer Ron McAnally.

Last December, Penamacor finished second to Lido Palace in the Grade 1 Chilean St. Leger on dirt. Last weekend, Lido Palace finished second in the Suburban Handicap at Belmont Park.

Said McAnally of Penamacor's St. Leger performance, "If he runs back to that race, I'd have to give him a chance."