08/28/2003 11:00PM

Cal Turf a battle of generations


SAN MATEO, Calif. - Aly Bubba was the proverbial gleam in his father's eye when Native Desert scored a victory in the California Turf Championship at Bay Meadows in 1998.

Since that first victory, Native Desert has won the race twice more, in 2000 and 2001 - the latter a dead heat with Spinelessjellyfish. Native Desert also ran second to Del Mar Gray in 1999, the year Aly Bubba was foaled.

On Monday, the up-and-coming 4-year-old and the 10-year-old millionaire will compete in the 2003 version of the $100,000, one-mile turf race for Cal-breds.

"This is probably his last year," said Native Desert's trainer, Juan Garcia.

Native Desert has aged gracefully, more than repaying Garcia and owner Miguel Rubio, who claimed him for $32,000 from his first start as a 3-year-old.

"He had real bad knees," Garcia said. "After looking at X-rays, the vet said he might not be able to run too many more races, but we took care of him."

Under Garcia's care, Native Desert is still running seven years later. He has 21 wins in 71 starts and $1,809,277 in earnings.

Garcia says Native Desert's success in the race is not merely because he's a horse for the course.

"He likes any track," Garcia said. "He's run well there, but he's run well at Golden Gate, run big at Hollywood Park, Santa Anita, Del Mar. Every track, he's always run good.

"He's been a runner since day one, and he's run big. I don't want to run against Grade 1 or Grade 2 horses. I look for the right spots."

Holly Evans, who is bringing Aly Bubba back after a seven-month layoff, also looks for the right spots for her star.

"He's bigger, happier, stronger, more mature now," she said. "Not that it's ever easy to win at this level, but, particularly in the spring, it's tougher for a 4-year-old."

Aly Bubba won his maiden at a mile over the turf here last summer and turned in a smasher when second in the Grade 3 Bay Meadows Derby.

Evans says Aly Bubba should be ready after a strong series of works and gallops and says he's similar to Native Desert in at least one way.

"He always gives his best," Evans said.

Lytle Creek faces six claimers

Sunday's Bay Meadows co-feature, a $40,000 claimer at six furlongs, is the day's most attractive race, as Lytle Creek puts a three-race winning streak on the line.

He will face Trickey Trevor, second and third in a pair of stakes races since being claimed for $50,000; win machine Fog City Willy, who has won 12 of 17 starts the past two years; Big League, who has won two straight; Beyond Brilliant, a stakes winner who lost by a neck on the turf to Lytle Creek in his last start; and stakes-winning Sempai.