05/30/2001 11:00PM

Baze can break stakes drought in Palo Alto


SAN MATEO, Calif. - Matiere Grise, who just missed in the Miss American Handicap here April 8, will be a heavy favorite to score her first United State stakes victory in the $50,000 Palo Alto Handicap at 1 1/16 miles on the turf at Bay Meadows on Saturday.

Matiere Grise will be ridden by Russell Baze, who is embroiled in a tight battle with Jason Lumpkins for the Bay Meadows jockey championship but is suffering through an 0-for-23 slump in stakes races. He has not won a stakes since Feb. 10, but he has finished second in a stakes 11 times since then.

That won't stop fans from betting Matiere Grise to about 4-5, nor should it. The Darrell Vienna-trained Matiere Grise has started four times in the U.S., and has shown that she is clearly better than her Palo Alto foes.

She made her U.S. debut in the Grade 2 Buena Vista at Santa Anita on Feb. 19, finishing seventh, and then finished third in the Grade 2 Santa Ana. After that, she finished second in the Miss America, beaten less than a length by the Grade 1-placed Alexine. Most recently, she finished sixth to Tranquility Lake in the Grade 3 Wilshire at Hollywood Park after encountering traffic trouble.

Matiere Griese's 117-pound impost in the Palo Alto certainly doesn't figure to stop her. She carried 116 in the Miss America and finished second at 5-2. Show Me Genius, who finished eighth at 30-1 under 115 in that race, will carry the same 115 Saturday.

The main threat to Matiere Grise may be the improving Casa's Kids, who will be making her stakes debut and was assigned 116. Trained by Simon Bray, Casa's Kids has won three of her last four starts, and is 2 for 2 over the Bay Meadows turf course.

* Baze, who has won every Bay Meadows and Golden Gate riding title at which he has participated since 1981, went into Thursday's program with a 65-63 lead over Lumpkins.

Baze, who trailed by six a week ago, briefly opened a five-winner lead on Wednesday, as he won the first race (Brigand Silk, $3.80), the second (Barato, $4) and fourth (I'ma Little Nugget, $8). Lumpkins, however, rebounded to take the fifth (Kirbo Turbo, $7.60), sixth (Bertha's Bikini, $22), and seventh (Color Me Special, $5.20).