09/06/2002 11:00PM

Baze thinks 'Hippo' can run

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SAN MATEO, Calif. - Russell Baze, the nation's leading rider in races won, is looking forward to Monday's seventh race at Bay Meadows.

He will be aboard Hippogator in a 5 1/2-furlong race as the 2-year-old filly makes her debut for trainer Jerry Hollendorfer.

Baze, who still works harder than almost any other rider in northern California, has worked Hippogator. He's not predicting victory, but he likes the way Hippogator, a daughter of Dixieland Band out of the stakes-winning Sunshine Forever mare Gastronomical, has worked.

Hippogator is Gastronomical's first foal. Twenty-one percent of her sire's offspring win their first start.

Trainers like to put Baze on young horses to get his opinion of how good they might be.

"Normally, if they've got one they think is okay, they'll ask me to get on and see what I think," Baze said. "Usually, they're right."

Accordimg to Baze, Hippogator "feels like a real athlete. She has speed, but I think she'll sit behind horses."

Hippogator was entered in the Mid Peninsula Stakes on Aug. 11 but didn't run because she was feeling the effects of a virus.

She has a pair of six-furlong works since being scratched, as well as a five-furlong work.

Baze knows she's fit as she prepares for her debut against five rivals.

He said that many 2-year-olds can be fit even if they haven't worked the distance they run in their debuts.

"You have to take into consideration how they work," he said. "Most of the exercise riders who get on do a good job to get them fit. Sometimes it's easier with fillies than with bigger horses.

"But it's nice going in knowing they've worked the distance they are scheduled to run."

Hippogator meets three other first-time starters - China Paint, Scuti Patuti, and Lizard Head.

Perfectineveryway flashed good early speed before stopping badly in her debut. Steely Look battled on the lead before giving way and finishing third in her debut.