10/14/2001 11:00PM

Bigger game on Blue's horizon

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ARCADIA, Calif. - In Wednesday's seventh race at Santa Anita, three leading contenders are making their first appearance for a claiming price in a $49,000 allowance race/optional claimer on turf.

It appears that Fade to Blue's career is going the other way.

A 5-year-old gelding, Fade to Blue was claimed for $25,000 in April 2000 and has since won 3 of 11 starts and $141,970 for owner Richard Englander and trainer Nick Canani.

Fade to Blue is well-suited for Wednesday's distance of 1 1/4 miles on turf. At Del Mar, Fade to Blue won two turf marathons - a $50,000 claimer on Aug. 24 and an allowance race/optional claimer on Sept. 5, both over 1 3/8 miles.

"It looks like a good spot," Canani said. "I think I've got a shot. It sets up well."

Canani envisions Wednesday's race as a prep to the $50,000 California Cup Starter Handicap over 1 1/4 miles on turf, which is restricted to statebreds who have started for a claiming price of $40,000 or less this year. Fade to Blue qualified with a third-place finish in a $20,000 claimer on dirt at Golden Gate Fields last February.

This year is the first that the Cal Cup Starter Handicap will be run over 1 1/4 miles on turf, having previously been run over 1 1/2 miles on dirt.

"I was very happy when they switched it to turf," Canani said.

While Wednesday's race is an ideal prep, it will also be a test for Fade to Blue. The other seven runners include Continental Red, who was second in the Escondido Handicap at Del Mar in August; Devon Deputy, the likely favorite; Motto, a winner against similar at Del Mar; Bombard, an allowance winner at Hollywood Park last April; and Loving, who was stakes-placed in Brazil.

Continental Red was third in the Quicken Tree Stakes at Hollywood Park on April 28, but is winless in 10 starts this year.

Devon Deputy was second in the Grade 2 San Luis Rey Handicap last March and fifth in the Escondido for trainer Bobby Frankel. This will be his first start for a claiming price.

Motto has not run since winning an $80,000 claimer at Del Mar on Aug. 8 Bombard and Loving are trained by Neil Drysdale and are making their first starts for $80,000 claiming prices.

In their most recent starts, Bombard was ninth in the Charles Whittingham Handicap last June, while Loving was fourth in the Grade 2 Sunset Handicap on July 15.

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