12/31/2003 12:00AM

Arbitrate tries confidence-builder

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ARCADIA, Calif. - is one of the best-bred horses at Santa Anita, but so far his racing career has been a disappointment.

Arbitrate is by top stallion Deputy Minister and out of the star mare Serena's Song, who won 18 of 38 starts and $3,283,388. He is a half-brother to Sophisticat, a stakes winner in Europe.

Arbitrate has yet to emulate his sire, dam, or half-sister, winning just 2 of 15 starts and $77,470. On Friday, he starts in a $60,000 optional claimer over 1 1/16 miles, a race that has drawn an oversubscribed number of horses, 13.

Three of the entrants last started in stakes races. Commander's Flag was third in the California Cup Classic on Nov. 8, while Long Gone Con and Infinite Faith were third and sixth in the Forty Niner Handicap at Golden Gate Fields on Nov. 28. Long Gone Con is the lone entrant on the also-eligible list.

Two were claimed in their last starts - Hotel Hall from a fifth-place finish for $80,000 on Dec. 3 and Good Meeting from a second-place finish for $62,500 on Dec. 5.

Two are coming off layoffs. Sharp Breeze makes his U.S. debut, having won 2 of 6 starts in lesser company in England. He last ran in September.

Spensive makes his first start since finishing fourth in an allowance race at Churchill Downs in May. A stakes winner at Golden Gate Fields in 2002, Spensive finished second in the San Rafael Stakes and WinStar Derby last spring.

Arbitrate has yet to start in a stakes. He is likely to run near the front.

Trainer D. Wayne Lukas is hoping to use the race as a confidence-builder for Arbitrate, who is owned by Robert and Beverly Lewis, the owners of Serena's Song.

"I'm looking to get him back winning," Lukas said. "It's a good distance and a good spot for him."

Arbitrate ran fourth last out, an allowance race at Hollywood Park on Nov. 30. He won twice at Arlington Park last year - a maiden race in June and an allowance race in August, both over 1 1/8 miles.

Commander's Flag, Spensive, and Good Meeting could reappear in Sunshine Millions races for California- and Florida-breds on Jan. 24.

Commander's Flag, who may be favored, was beaten three lengths in the California Cup Classic, rallying from seventh to get third after a wide run. Trained by Bruce Headley, Commander's Flag is attempting to end a six-race losing streak.