11/18/2002 12:00AM

Alvarado back in Bay Area

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ALBANY, Calif. - Jockey Frank Alvarado could make quite a splash when he makes his return to the Golden Gate Fields jockey colony on Wednesday.

Alvarado has one mount, aboard morning-line favorite Dream Machine in the feature, a 1 1/16-mile allowance race on the turf.

The French-bred Dream Machine is seeking his first United States victory. Trained by Julio Canani, Dream Machine was second in his U.S. debut in the Oceanside Handicap on July 24 at Del Mar. He followed that up with a third in the Relaunch at Del Mar on Aug. 16. He was last in the Grade 2 Oak Tree Derby on Oct. 13, fading in the lane.

His main rivals appear to be Aly Bubba, who split Royal Gem and highly touted Century City in a three-way photo in the Grade 3 Bay Meadows Derby on Nov. 3, and Runaway Dancer, fifth in the Bay Meadows Derby.

Alvarado finished in the top three among riders at both Golden Gate Fields and Bay Meadows at the 2000 and 2001 meets. He tied for fifth in the 2001-2002 Golden Gate Fields meeting and was sixth in the 2002 Bay Meadows spring meeting.

He went east in July and was eighth in the standings at Laurel when he moved back to the Bay Area.

His agent, Brad Pegram, said Alvarado is returning because of the weather. The decision was made even before second-leading rider Jason Lumpkins announced he was leaving for Kentucky.

Ward thinking Millions

Owner-trainer Dennis Ward was confident Surprise Halo would win last Saturday's $100,000 optional claimer at 1 1/16 miles on the turf. And not simply because the 4-year-old Surprise Halo was 6 for 6 at the distance going into the race.

Getting a great ride from Joey Castro, Surprise Halo sat closer than usual to pacesetting Edneator and had clear sailing down the lane.

"I told Joey to play it by ear, but I thought he'd be farther back," Ward said. "When I saw the slow fractions, I was glad of where he was."

Ward hopes the victory will earn the Cal-bred Surprise Halo an invitation to the $500,000 Sunshine Millions Turf at 1 1/8 miles. The race will be run at Santa Anita on Jan. 25 as part of an eight-race challenge between California- and Florida-breds.

Although he has never won a stakes race, Surprise Halo has won 9 of 16 turf starts with 4 seconds and 2 thirds, including a second in the California Turf Championship at Bay Meadows on Labor Day.

His lone off-the-board turf outing was in the Cal Cup Mile where he was sixth, beaten only 2 1/2 lengths when he had no room to run from the quarter pole home.