03/15/2004 1:00AM

Arterburn: Kilgowan is 'the real deal'


ALBANY, Calif. - Saturday's El Camino Real Derby at Golden Gate Fields raised the hopes of two local trainers: Lonnie Arterburn, who saddled the winner, Kilgowan, and Jerry McArthur, whose fourth-place finisher O.K. Mikie finished fastest after a troubled trip.

Arterburn has been here before. He saddled Remember Sheikh, the 2000 winner of the El Camino.

"This is a bigger, stronger horse," Arterburn said of Kilgowan. "This is a great horse, the real deal. With Remember Sheikh, we were doing everything we could to get him ready for the El Camino."

Remember Sheikh made a furious charge late to win the race. While being interviewed following the race, Arterburn received a phone call. Remember Sheikh had collapsed in the receiving barn.

"He passed out from exhaustion," Arterburn said. "He'd probably run too hard. He was never any good after that."

Remember Sheikh is still racing as a cheap claimer. His best finish since the El Camino was a third in the Forty Niner Handicap in November 2002.

Kilgowan came out of Saturday's race in good shape.

He was overlooked at 26-1 going into the El Camino after a somewhat dull effort in the Golden State Mile. Arterburn was so disappointed by that fourth-place finish that even when he discovered a reason to explain it he kept quiet, not wanting to sound as if he were making excuses.

The colt reared in the gate, hitting his head. He was probably dazed and didn't put out much effort even after jockey Chance Rollins tried hard to get him to run.

Arterburn thought the colt was ill after the race. He never took a deep breath and cooled out quickly without even taking a sip of water. It wasn't until the next day that Rollins confirmed the big colt had hit his head before the race.

Rollins was approached about riding a Southern California invader in the El Camino but turned it down for the chance to ride Kilgowan again.

"I was high on him going into that race," he said of the Golden State Mile, "and I was high going on him into this one."

Kilgowan is a homebred from Ted and Noreen O'Neill's Ann Marie Farm. A son of Smoke Glacken out of the Dynaformer mare Port Roberto, he may ultimately be headed for the turf.

Arterburn and the O'Neills will map a strategy for the colt, who has 3 wins in 5 starts and has never failed to pick up a check. Ted O'Neill said he would leave the decision of whether to make a late nomination to the Triple Crown up to Arterburn, and the trainer said he thought they should.

Immediately after the race, Arterburn said the colt would probably run next in the California Derby at Bay Meadows, but that is not a graded race, and any money Kilgowan earned would not be counted toward eligibility for the Kentucky Derby.

On Sunday, Arterburn said he was looking at the Illinois Derby, to which Kilgowan is nominated, or possibly supplementing to the Santa Anita Derby.

"You don't get a lot of opportunities in life," Arterburn said.

As for O.K. Mikie, McArthur said before the El Camino that if the horse ran well, he would probably go in the Santa Anita Derby. Nothing the colt did changed those plans.

"He ran huge," McArthur said. "I'm so disappointed he had such bad running luck. . . . but he came back good."

More 3-year-olds in action

Wednesday's feature is a six-furlong first-level allowance race for 3-year-olds.

Bonfante, who won his debut here before running second against better at Santa Anita in his second start, looks like the one to catch for trainer Steve Specht.

"He's pretty quick," Specht said. "At Santa Anita, he ran a little green. He was zigging and zagging leaving the gate but still got the lead.

"He always showed potential. He was ready last summer but hurt a knee. I had him ready in the fall, and he got sick."

Trainer Art Sherman has a good one-two punch to throw at the favorite in Bas Giant, who has exceeded expectations after starting at the bottom maiden claiming level, and Don'tcallmefrisco, a Triple Crown nominee who ran third against similar on Feb. 22 in his first start since winning his debut last August.

"I don't want to make any excuses," Sherman said of Don'tcallmefrisco's comeback, "but he came back and worked 59 and change."

Kid Ralston, a wire-to-wire winning in a $50,000 maiden claimer in his debut, should be a pace factor.

"We've got to try, but it sure came up tough," said Bill Morey Jr., who owns, trains, and bred Kid Ralston.

"My wife taught 36 years at Ralston School in Belmont and wanted me to name a horse after the school. All the teachers got together and bet him in his debut, and we had a big party with the winnings. I don't know if they should bet this time."

First victory for Franko

Daniel Franko got his first victory as a trainer Saturday when Noble Masterpiece scored a $121.60 victory in a $25,000 claimer at 1 1/16 miles on the turf. Jockey Gerry Olguin, visiting his family while on vacation from Canada, guided Noble Masterpiece from last.

Franko, who began claiming horses with trainer Frances Henderson last September, owned horses in the 1970's and joked, "I had to go out and make more money so I could get into horses again."

Franko planned to take out his trainer's license when he returned to the game and credited Henderson with helping him.

Franko, who has 21 horses, including five 2-year-olds, was 0 for 24 before his victory, but he had four seconds and seven thirds.