07/22/2003 12:00AM

Ankle sidelines El Dorado Shooter

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SANTA ROSA, Calif. - El Dorado Shooter, sure to have been the favorite in Saturday's $40,000 Ernest Finley Handicap at six furlongs at the Sonoma County Fair, is on the sidelines after undergoing surgery to remove a chip from his right front ankle last week.

A 6-year-old gelding who in his last start won the Grade 3, $150,000 Bay Meadows Breeders' Cup Sprint on June 7, El Dorado Shooter had a bullet five-furlong work in 57.80 seconds on July 12.

"The ankle heated up," trainer-breeder Cliff Delima said, "so we X-rayed it. It was just a chip, not too big, and they took it out with no problem. The vet said he'd be out three months, but I may give him a little more time."

Smoking Joe heats up mule circuit

Owner Terry Shelton says he and partner Jim Schleimer have been involved with mules since 1980, when purses were only $300 or $400. On Sunday, they scored their biggest victory when 4-year-old Smoking Joe won the $10,600 Millennium Mule Challenge in track-record time at the Solano County Fair, beating Black Ruby by a half-length while covering 400 yards in 23.375 seconds.

It was the second straight race in which Smoking Joe had finished ahead of Black Ruby, the 11-year-old world champion mule. He was second behind Sarah Nelson and in front of third-place Black Ruby two weeks earlier at Pleasanton. Sarah Nelson was third in the Millennium Mule Challenge.

Shelton bought Smoking Joe as a four-month-old weanling at Mule Days in Bishop, Calif., and calls him "the most agile, athletic mule I've ever been around."

Trainer Deanna Cook said Smoking Joe "trains just like a horse." The biggest adjustment she has made in his training did not come at the track.

"I had him on the other side of my barn, and he didn't like it," Cook said. "I moved him to where he can see the action and have people around. He loves the attention."

Nick Sessions rode Smoking Joe, who ran very wide, almost near the grandstand rail. But Sessions didn't think that breaking from an outside post mattered in the victory.

"He just ran strong down the lane," Sessions said. "He ran his heart out."

Burns returns on Black Ruby

Black Ruby's regular rider, Jim Burns, out for six weeks after breaking several ribs in a training mishap, made his first ride of the fair circuit aboard Black Ruby.

"She ran a winning race," he said.

He added that the ribs did not bother him at all and that he had no trouble breathing. He is riding full-time at Santa Rosa.

Saddle up? Nope - tee off

Hall of Fame jockey Russell Baze will be a special guest at Willie Bird's third annual Horsemen's Golf Tournament on Tuesday at the Foxtail North Course in Rohnert Park. The four-man scramble event gets under way with a 1 p.m. shotgun start.

Cost is $85 per person, including green fees, cart, and barbeque at Willie Bird's Restaurant in Santa Rosa after the event. Baze will meet with golfers at the course between noon and 1 p.m.

For information, contact Willie Bird's Restaurant or George Simpson at the racing secretary's office.

Baze, Hollendorfer take titles

Baze, who rode only seven days of the 10-day Solano County Fair meeting in Vallejo, led all riders with 15 victories. He won two races on closing day to pull away from Chance Rollins, who had trailed 13-11 but did not win on the last day.

Jerry Hollendorfer edged Armando Lage 8-7 in the trainers' race, breaking their tie in Sunday's next-to-last race.

* Internationally famous Darley Stud was represented in the winner's circle at Solano on Sunday when favored Classic Impact won the third race, a five-furlong allowance for Arabians.