03/15/2003 12:00AM

Amber Hills wins California Oaks


ALBANY, Calif. - Amber Hills ($24), who ran the opening half mile in 44.76 seconds, re-rallied after being passed in the lane and held off the closing charge of Mavoreen to win the $82,650 California Oaks at Golden Gate Fields on Saturday.

Running in blinkers for the first time, Amber Hills broke sharply and beat maiden Quero Quero to the first turn. She ran a 21.96 opening quarter as she led by a head. She increased the margin to 3 1/2 lengths after the opening half.

Quero Quero, whose only two starts had been at 6 1/2 furlongs down Santa Anita's Hillside Turf Course, could not hold off Amber Hills, who had won a stakes race at the Oaks' 1 1/16-mile distance as a 2-year-old, late.

Mavoreen rallied from off the pace to finish second, three-quarters of a length in front of Quero Quero. Favored Lucky Sabre was another head back in fourth. Amber Hills' winning time in the 1 1/16-mile race was 1:44.25.

"We kinda sent her hard because of the way the track is and the post," winning trainer Ed Moger Jr. said. "(Winning jockey Gary Baze) kinda gunned her, and she took off.

"A lot of times they go too fast and get swallowed up. It looked like they'd all get to her, but she's a good filly."

Baze said, "I was expecting someone to go by in the lane, but all the horses were laboring down the lane. My filly dropped into a lower gear, but she kept digging in."

The victory, worth $48,904, improved Amber Hills' career earnings to $134,234 with three wins in nine starts.