04/18/2003 11:00PM

Bay Meadows: Presidio Heights wins

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SAN MATEO, Calif. - Presidio Heights ($5.40) got an easy lead and was never seriously challenged in the $63,550 Atherton Handicap at Bay Meadows on Saturday, defeating Halo Cat by 1 1/2 lengths.

Presidio Heights, who set fractions of 21.08 and 42.89 against El Dorado Shooter in winning the Danville Handicap last out, ran his opening fractions in 21.76 and 43.36 while opening up easily in the Atherton. He led New Zealand-bred Matter of Honour by one length after the opening quarter and by three lengths after the half, with Halo Cat a head farther back. He had plenty left in the lane, winning the six-furlong race in 1:07.84.

"I knew there was no speed, and I didn't want to be put in the position where I made him run early and have it cost me," winning jockey Roberto Gonzalez said. "As long as I didn't stumble I knew I would be on the lead."

"I said before the race if this horse could get a [43.80] first half, he'd be all right, and he was very close to that," winning trainer Art Sherman said.

"This horse has found out how to win and is really on his game."

Presidio Heights suffered a hairline crack in a hind leg last spring and was sidelined for seven months. He was dropped to the $25,000 claiming level for his third start and won.

"That was a big confidence builder," Sherman said.

Presidio Heights lost his next start but has won three straight since.

He earned $33,400 Saturday for his seventh victory in 18 starts He has career earnings of $170,330. He is owned by William Zellerbach.