01/24/2002 1:00AM

Allowance subs for scratched stakes


ALBANY, Calif. - While the stakes race Saturday at Golden Gate Fields failed to fill, the feature race could present an interesting challenge for handicappers. A field of nine older allowance runners will compete at one mile.

The field will be headed by a Jerry Hollendorfer-trained entry of Smokeville and How Bout Jose, both of whom come off good efforts. Smokeville led briefly in the lane before losing by a neck against similar in the mud. How Bout Jose ran third in a turf allowance after setting a pressured pace in his first start around two turns.

Two recent maiden winners, Blazing Road and Tonco, also merit attention. Blazing Road upset the odds-on Tonco in his last start on Dec. 9, while Tonco snapped a string of three straight seconds with a Jan. 5 victory in the mud. Saturday's start will be Blazing Road's first at a mile. Tonco lost to future stakes winner San Nicolas in his only try around two turns last Feb. 4.

Elusion and Lil' Country also enter the race off victories. Elusion won at the distance in the mud against $20,000 claimers on Dec. 31. Lil' Country was impressive when he stole a $12,500 starter allowance race.

The race could turn out to be a question of whether the improving, but late-developing How Bout Jose can hold off Lil' Country down the stretch with the feeling here he can.

Only four betting interests were entered in the scheduled six-furlong Vallejo Stakes, an overnight handicap for 3-year-old fillies.

It is the second time at the current meeting that a stakes races for this category has not been run. The Piedmont Stakes, scheduled Nov. 25 for then-2-year-old fillies was never run.

Racing secretary Greg Brent said he knew the stakes was in trouble when only seven were nominated for the race. Three of the nominees came from Hollendorfer with three more from trainer Jeff Bonde.

"It's frustrating for me, but I know it's frustrating for those two trainers, too," Brent said. "They spend a lot of money on good horses." He said he would try to bring the stakes back later.

Brent said he was "not at liberty" to run overnight stakes with only four betting interests but would have requested that management run the race with five betting interests.

Bonde is unhappy that sprint stakes have twice been canceled.

"It's funny that they use three- and four-horse fields at Santa Anita but not here," he said. "A good racing secretary uses his entire community," Bonde said. "We're overusing the bottom categories here, and it's starting to show."

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