06/08/2005 11:00PM

Berkeley pits three toughies

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ALBANY, Calif. - Graded stakes winners Skipaslew, Smoocher, and Yougottawanna meet in Saturday's Grade 3, $100,000 Berkeley Handicap at Golden Gate Fields.

On the original Golden Gate stakes schedule, the 1 1/16-mile Berkeley was listed as a $75,000 stakes race. But when racing secretary Sean Greely confirmed that the race would be able to retain its graded status, he rearranged stakes purses to enable the Berkeley to meet the $100,000 minimum to qualify as a graded race.

As a result, the Berkeley drew a talented field of seven.

Skipaslew, who won the Grade 3 Golden Gate Derby here in 2004, and Yougottawanna, a multiple Grade 3 winner, are two underrated horses despite their past success.

, 4, blossomed at Golden Gate Fields, winning the Grade 3 Golden Gate Derby last year. But his Kentucky Derby quest ended with a fifth-place finish in the Illinois Derby. He failed to win in four subsequent races at 3.

This year, Skipaslew ran third in the Grade 2 San Fernando and won the Santana Mile at Santa Anita and was second in the Alysheba at Churchill Downs in his last start.

"He's been really, really consistent," trainer Doug O'Neill said. "With the campaign he had as a 3-year-old, he's not dropped off a bit. He's thrived on running. He steps up to the challenge, and when he hasn't won, he's been right there."

On Saturday, he likely will stalk Yougottawanna and stakes winner Best Minister, who has speed and is running his first race for trainer Richard Mandella.

is something of an upset specialist. He knocked off highly regarded Officer as a 2-year-old at the Cal Cup and won the Grade 3 El Camino Real Derby here as a 3-year-old over Danthebluegrassman.

"He likes this track," trainer Jerry Hollendorfer said. "Golden Gate has always been good for him."

The front-running Yougottawanna has a 10-3-4-1 record at Golden Gate. But he's not the only Berkeley entrant that has run well here. Skipaslew is 2 for 4 here, and trainer Art Sherman's uncoupled entrants, Desert Boom (2 for 2) and Easy Million (3 for 6), have also done well here.

Yougottawanna's stablemate won the Grade 2 Grey Breeders' Cup Handicap at Woodbine at 2 and has recorded two triple-digit Beyer Speed Figures since stretching out in distance this year.

"He's jumping up, but he deserves a shot," said Hollendorfer, who trains Smoocher.