03/26/2003 12:00AM

War Zone well spotted in U.S. debut

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ARCADIA, Calif. - After starting in several of the top sprints in France last year, War Zone will face a weaker field in a $65,000 allowance race at Santa Anita Friday.

In his U.S. debut and first start for trainer Bobby Frankel, War Zone faces only four rivals in a race at about 6 1/2 furlongs on the hillside turf course. Of his four opponents, only Nuclear Debate, third in the Atto Mile, has run well against top company in the last year.

War Zone finished fourth in the Group 1 Prix de la Foret at Longchamp, France, last October, his final start of a four-race campaign in 2002 that included a victory in a Group 3 race at seven furlongs at Longchamp last June.

Between those races, he finished fifth in two group sprints at Deauville, France.

An American-bred 4-year-old who races for Juddmonte Farms, War Zone was a sprint stakes winner as a 2-year-old in 2001, scoring a victory in the Prix Zeddaan at six furlongs. In an earlier stakes, the Group 1 Prix Morny, he finished fifth behind Johannesburg, who later won the Breeders' Cup Juvenile at Belmont Park and was named champion 2-year-old male of 2001.

In Friday's race, War Zone drew the outside post against Nuclear Debate, Saphir Indien, Kachamandi, and Ecstatic.

Nuclear Debate made one start at this meet, finishing sixth in the Exceller Handicap at one mile on turf Jan. 25. Last year, he won two of seven starts, including the Nearctic Handicap at Woodbine. He also finished third in the Atto Mile, and a troubled 12th in the Breeders' Cup Mile at Arlington Park in October. The 8-year-old Nuclear Debate is winless in his last four starts.

The other starters will be longer prices. Ecstatic won an optional claiming race over this course and distance Jan. 2, and finished third in two subsequent races, including the Reb's Policy Handicap on the hillside turf course Feb. 21.

Kachamandi is making his fifth start at the meet. Second in the Reb's Policy, the 6-year-old Kachamandi returned eight days later and finished 10th in the $400,000 Frank Kilroe Mile, the meet's top race for turf milers.

"Going a mile, he dropped so far out of it he didn't have a chance," trainer Barry Abrams said. "He loves going down the hill."

Saphir Indien will be the longest shot in the field. He has not been competitive in claiming races for sprinters on turf in the last five months.

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