05/05/2004 12:00AM

'Wicked' tunes up for longer races


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Wild and Wicked, who won the Ohio Derby last June and later finished fourth in the Haskell Invitational and Travers Stakes, makes his California debut in a $54,000 optional claimer at Hollywood Park on Friday night.

Run over 7 1/2 furlongs on dirt, the race is Wild and Wicked's first start in more than eight months and first outing for trainer Doug O'Neill.

"We expect him to run on at the end," O'Neill said. "Hopefully, he'll be back, and it will be a strong start to running in longer races. He's fresh and ready to run."

Owned by David Randal, won 3 of 5 starts and $358,480 last year while trained by Ken McPeek.

Wild and Wicked won his first three starts convincingly, a maiden race at Keeneland in April, an allowance race at Churchill Downs in May, and the Grade 2 Ohio Derby at Thistledown in June.

In August, Wild and Wicked was sent off at 9-2 in the Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park, but faded in the final furlong to finish 10 lengths behind Peace Rules.

In the Travers Stakes at Saratoga, Wild and Wicked failed to reach his customary stalking position and finished fourth to Ten Most Wanted.

Wild and Wicked, 4, has been with O'Neill since late winter, having spent a few months with trainer D. Wayne Baker at San Luis Rey Downs training center, where he was based in the first few months of his comeback.

Friday's optional claimer is likely to lead to starts in upcoming stakes for Wild and Wicked, perhaps the $250,000 Californian Stakes over 1 1/8 miles on June 12.

"He looks fresh and is training fantastic," O'Neill said.

Wild and Wicked has seven opponents, including Ride and Shine, who was third in the Tiznow Stakes for statebreds on April 24; Rojo Toro, the winner of the Grade 2 San Rafael Stakes in 2003; and Daunting, who won the Claiming Crown Jewel Stakes at Canterbury Park last July.

is entered to be claimed for $100,000. A closer, Ride and Shine is winless in 10 starts since a sprint at Santa Anita last September. He finished first in an optional claimer over 6 1/2 furlongs at Santa Anita in January, but was disqualified and placed fourth.

Rojo Toro has not started since finishing third in an optional claimer in February. Daunting was fourth in the Forty Niner Handicap at Golden Gate Fields last November.