07/06/2006 11:00PM

Alamedan field lacks early speed

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PLEASANTON, Calif. - Closing day at what has become Speed Central (aka the Alameda County Fair) finds a paceless field of six signed up for the $50,000 Alamedan Handicap.

The 1 1/16-mile race is filled with turf specialists who seem to prefer to sit back early.

The race could go to the horse brave enough to take the lead, and that may be the strategy trainer Armando Lage employs with First Rate Event.

"I believe my horse is faster than Now Victory," Lage said, citing one of his opponents in ther race. "He'll give you whatever you ask. He will show early foot."

Now Victory flashed good speed in his only dirt victory. Then, after three months off, he opened up by 12 in a 1 3/8-mile turf stakes. Since then he has been content to sit back.

"I'm sure he'll be forwardly placed, but it's more natural speed," trainer Dean Pederson said. "He'll fall away from there, and I'm sure if you tapped him on the shoulder, he'd show speed.

"We've gotten him to where he relaxes. That's a good thing, because he's always been over-aggressive."

Megabyte, whose three fast-track victories are the most by any runner in the field, seems to prefer sitting close to the lead and stalking. Real Temptation, coming off a win, and Clipperdown, looking for his first U.S. victory, could also contend for the lead if really asked. The same can be said for the stakes winner Sharp Writer.

First Rate Event has never won on dirt and may offer value in this spot.

"This horse trains tremendously on dirt," Lage said. "He's very good right now, and we don't have many options. I always thought he could run on anything."

Now Victory ran third to First Rate Event last time, experiencing traffic problems early that compromised his best chance to win. His outside draw should help him avoid trouble.

"For him, it's a perfect draw," Pederson said.

* Sarah Nelson and Smoking Joe renew their rivalry in the $10,000 Pleasanton Mule Challenge at 400 yards.

* Mazelman, highly regarded as a 2-year-old before suffering an injury, returns to the races after nearly two years on the sidelines in the $10,000 Jack Robinson Handicap, a mixed-breed race at 870 yards.