04/25/2002 11:00PM

A wide-open Cal-bred scramble


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - There are better races Sunday than the $250,000 Snow Chief Stakes at Hollywood Park. This is slightly unusual, because the Snow Chief is the richest of 10 races that comprise California Gold Rush Day, a 10-race card exclusively for California-breds.

"That's the beauty of Cal-breds, we get a couple shots every year to run for big money," said trainer Paddy Gallagher, whose Gobi Dan will be one of the favorites in the 1 1/8-mile Snow Chief. The race for 3-year-olds, sponsored by Cal Fed Bank, would typically be the highlight of the $1.3 million card. This year, all but two of the 12 Snow Chief starters are still eligible to the first allowance condition.

"It's a one-other-than for $250,000, and I think it's fantastic," said trainer Cliff Sise. "It's an incentive to breed Cal-breds."

The enthusiasm is expected; Sise starts two contenders in the Snow Chief. He said Good Terms and Roberto's Show "are both going great, they should be right there." For the amount of money up for grabs Sunday, Sise hopes either gelding delivers.

This is the third year Hollywood Park has hosted the California Gold Rush, the springtime equivalent to the California Cup held each fall during the Oak Tree meet at Santa Anita. Horseplayers have embraced both. The inaugural Gold Rush card in 2000 generated handle of $16.2 million; last year's Gold Rush handle exceeded $17.1 million. Full fields in many races, and a $1 million guaranteed pick six pool on races 5-10 will muster interest. While the feature came up weak, other races are solid.

Graded stakes winners Go Go and Favorite Funtime race seven furlongs in the $150,000 B. Thoughtful Stakes for fillies and mares. Northern California invader Super Tuesday will be heavily favored going 1 1/16 miles on grass in the $175,000 Fran's Valentine for fillies and mares. Stakes winners Bella Bella Bella and Lady George face upstart Super High at 1 1/16 miles on dirt in the $200,000 Melair Stakes for 3-year-old fillies. Veteran turf runners Native Desert and Fit For a King race 1 1/16 miles in race the $175,000 TVG Khaled Stakes in which they face Hugh Hefner.

The $100,000 Quicken Tree, at 1 1/2 miles, kicks off the program; four sprints for maidens and allowance runners are sprinkled through the card. The toughest race to handicap is the Snow Chief, named after the California-bred Preakness winner named champion 3-year-old of 1986.

While the field includes no obvious superstars, hope is lightly-raced Menacing Dennis or Good Terms may transform the Snow Chief into a better race than it looks on paper. "They're faster horses, the question is whether they can go long," said Gallagher, whose one-paced Gobi Dan can only win if everyone else loses. In the case of Menacing Dennis, the final quarter-mile will be testing.

Menacing Dennis won a Monmouth maiden race by more than 10 lengths last July, but bucked shins in the race and did not resurface until March. He beat open allowance foes by two lengths, but got drilled by Officer one month later. According to trainer Jeff Bonde, the race was a throw-out. "He didn't run the race we expected, he drew the inside, didn't break sharp, rushed, then fell apart."

It was not the type race on which to build, but Bonde had been planning for the Snow Chief anyway, and worked Menacing Dennis a mile April 18. "He went slow early, and finished the last quarter in 25. We though tit was a decent work He relaxes enough that he should be able to have something left."

Menacing Dennis is the only starter who has earned Beyer Speed Figures above 90, and he has done so twice. To win the Snow Chief, Menacing Dennis and jockey Victor Espinoza will have to be caught.

Good Terms should be tucked sitting right behind the speed, and he has worked super since his second start, a runner-up finish vs. older. Good Terms and Menacing Dennis will be racing two turns for the first time Sunday, while the Sise-trained Roberto's Show has been a distance, though not very fast. Last time out, he finished a length behind Gobi Dan.

In Gobi Dan, a colt by Huckster with 3 wins from 9 starts, Gallagher said: "What you see is what you get. What he does is he just keeps grinding all the way."

Other starters include Downtownwillybrown, whose sire Bertrando has eight runners on the card (second to nine sired by In Excess); Highly Suspect, California Goal, Calkins Road, Duddly Doo Run, Wagon Train, Enorme, and Groom on the Run. Six of the 12 starters have run in claiming races.