02/12/2009 12:00AM

Autism Awareness faces El Gato Malo

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ALBANY, Calif. - One year ago, Autism Awareness unexpectedly stepped into the spotlight by winning the Grade 3 El Camino Real Derby in a $126 upset.

On Saturday he will take on the multiple graded-stakes winner El Gato Malo in the $50,000 McCann's Mojave on the El Camino Real undercard at Golden Gate Fields. Five older runners will compete in the 1 1/16-mile event.

Both Autism Awareness and El Gato Malo went to the sidelines last year after scoring derby victories.

Three days after Autism Awareness won the El Camino Real Derby, he came down with a small bone chip in his left knee.

Less than a month after winning the Grade 3 Lone Star Derby, El Gato Malo was taken out of training suffering from a minor undisclosed injury that trainer Craig Dollase attributed to "wear and tear."

Both 4-year-olds have raced three times since coming back, and both are looking for their first wins.

El Gato Malo ran fourth in a Hollywood Park sprint and then was third in the Grade 3 Sir Beaufort on Dec. 26, opening day of the Santa Anita meet. His last start came in the Grade 2 San Fernando when he raced in contention early before tiring to sixth.

Dollase is looking for a confidence builder for El Gato Malo, an El Corredor gelding who won the Gold Rush here as a 2-year-old. Dollase also entered Ghetto, who won a turf race here last fall, to make sure the McCann's Mojave had enough runners to be carded.

Autism Awareness faded in the first two starts of his comeback when routing. He showed more early speed in those races than trainer Genaro Vallejo wanted. Vallejo attributed that to the colt's freshness.

He ran Autism Awareness in a Jan. 25 sprint and was pleased with the way the colt finished, closing to be second by a neck.

"He hasn't relaxed that much, so I tried to run him in a sprint," Vallejo said. "I was very happy with the way he ran. He was trying every step of the way."

The McCann's Mojave has been on Vallejo's radar since Golden Gate Fields announced it was adding the race to the stakes schedule. It became an option for Dollase after the disappointing San Fernando. Both El Gato Malo and Autism Awareness have turned in good works for this race.

Cover Magic, runner-up in the Dec. 26 Silveyville here, and Mississippi Gold, who will be making his third start after a long layoff, are also entered.