07/10/2003 12:00AM

Bayou the Moon earns stakes shot


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Bayou the Moon will be pointed to the $75,000 Wickerr Handicap at Del Mar on Aug. 2 after winning a $60,088 optional claimer on turf at Hollywood Park on Thursday.

Bayou the Moon finished a mile in 1:34.38, rallying from last in the five-horse field to finish a head in front of Soud. Native Desert, the millionaire 10-year-old gelding, finished a game third in his 70th career start.

Bayou the Moon races for Ed Allred and R.D. Hubbard. A 5-year-old, he won the Alydar Stakes on dirt in 2001 and was third in the Grade 3 Affirmed Handicap that summer. He has been sidelined by injuries on two occasions in the last two years, and ended a nine-race losing streak on Thursday.

"He's getting it together," trainer Richard Mandella said.

The Wickerr Handicap is run over a mile on turf, and often draws a strong field.

Native Desert, who has won 21 races and $1,809,277 for owner Miguel Rubio, was entered to be claimed for $100,000 on Thursday. There were no takers. Trainer Juan Garcia intends to run Native Desert through the year before retirement is considered.

"As long as he's in good shape, I'll run him," Garcia said. "He's a happy horse when he's at the barn. When he's at the ranch, he's not so happy.

"He still ran a big race. He's got a slow kick."

Steiner's recuperation nearly done

Jockey Joe Steiner, who has not ridden since suffering facial and foot injuries in a spill on Feb. 26, is nearing a comeback.

Steiner, 38, worked horses at Hollywood Park on Thursday. He said he needs a doctor's approval to return and is hoping to do so at Del Mar, which opens on July 23.

"I'll be gearing up in the next couple of weeks," he said.

On Feb. 26 at Santa Anita, Steiner's mount clipped heels with a rival and fell a quarter-mile into a sprint race. Jockey Matt Garcia received a 10-day suspension for his role in the spill. Garcia appealed the suspension, and his appeal was rejected. He is serving the suspension through July 20.

"It was a freak accident," Steiner said. "It was human error, but it's one of those things that happened."

In late February, Steiner underwent surgery to have a plate and six screws inserted into a bone below his right eye. He later had a pin inserted into a heel to accelerate healing.

Steiner said this his vision was not impaired by the accident and he is anxious to return to racing.

"There is nothing like being on the back of horses," he said.

Gate workers approve contract

Members of the starting gate crew at California racetracks have given tentative approval for a new contract that will include substantial pay increases.

Gate crew members, known as assistant starters, have held meetings with track officials in recent weeks. When talks reached a stalemate in late June, the assistant starters gave the required 15-day notice to the California Horse Racing Board of intent to strike. But Travis Keil, a senior member of the gate crew at Hollywood Park, said the assistant starters at Hollywood Park, Los Alamitos, and the northern California fairs had voted in favor the deal, presented by management in early July.

"Hopefully, we'll have it done before Del Mar," he said. "It takes a while to work out the contracts. So far, so good."

The proposal will increase the wages for members with extensive experience.

Californians eye Claiming Crown

Five horses based in California have been pre-entered for the at Canterbury Park on July 19, including Debonair Joe, the winner of the Malibu Stakes at Santa Anita last December.

Debonair Joe is being pointed to the $100,000 Rapid Transit Stakes, a sprint, by trainer Sergio Ledezma. Owned by Lynne Ristad-Lidgett, Debonair Joe was trained by Juan Pablo Silva when he won the Malibu and the Vernon Underwood stakes at Hollywood Park. Silva disbanded his public stable earlier this year.

The other California-based nominees for the Claiming Crown are based in Southern California - Daunting, a hopeful for the $150,000 Jewel Stakes; Mega Gift, a candidate for the $125,000 Emerald Stakes; Rhetoric Express for the Rapid Transit; and Lucky Spirit for the $75,000 Glass Slipper.

Special screening of Seabiscuit

A charity screening of "Seabiscuit" will be held on July 20, benefiting the Eddie Gregson Foundation and the Don MacBeth Memorial Jockey Fund.

The event includes a cocktail party from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at the Derby restaurant in Arcadia, followed by a presentation of the film at 8 p.m. at Krikorian Theaters in Monrovia.

There is limited availability and tickets are $150 per person. Proceeds from the event will be shared by the Gregson Foundation, which provides college scholarships for the children of backstretch workers, and the MacBeth Fund, which aids disabled riders.