03/31/2006 1:00AM

California-breds run 1-2-3 in world's richest sprint

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ARCADIA, Calif. - The moments surrounding Proud Tower Too's win in the $2 million Golden Shaheen at Nad Al Sheba Racecourse in Dubai on March 25 remain a bit fuzzy for trainer Sal Gonzalez.

"I don't remember the race, but I remember him hitting the wire," he said. "I couldn't see very well where we were sitting, on the fourth floor."

The ebullient Gonzalez, who is originally from Mexico, wore an ear-to-ear grin after the race. He stood at the colt's side in the track's tiny winner's circle, shouting, "All right Dubai. Viva Mexico!"

"I said that?" he asked on Thursday. "I guess my emotions got the better of me."

The richest sprint in the world, the Golden Shaheen was a milestone for Proud Tower Too, owner Daniel Cardenas's Tricar Stable, and California breeding in general. The first three finishers, all from Southern California stables, are California-breds.

Proud Tower Too, who is by Proud Irish, finished 1 1/4 lengths in front of Thor's Echo, a Swiss Yodeler gelding. The third-place finisher was Jet West, a 5-year-old by Western Fame who won the California Cup Sprint in November.

Those three collected $1.8 million of the purse.

Proud Tower Too and Thor's Echo are familiar rivals.

Proud Tower Too won the Grade 1 Malibu Stakes on Dec. 26, with Thor's Echo in third. They finished first and second, respectively, a length apart, in the Sensational Star Handicap at Santa Anita on Feb. 19.

"That SOB, he's beaten us three times in a row now," said Pablo Suarez, the co-owner of Thor's Echo.

Gonzalez hasn't been the same since Proud Tower Too's Dubai win.

"I haven't been able to sleep well, but I'm in good shape with money," Gonzalez said. "I saw him the day after the race and he ate well. The boys called me and said he was sound as a dollar."

The Dubai horses returned to California early Thursday. Gonzalez plans to give Proud Tower Too a brief vacation and have him resume racing this summer. The long-term goal is the Breeders' Cup Sprint at Churchill Downs in November.

While the memories of the Dubai win are a blur, the impact is not lost on Gonzalez.

"I was happy to be winning with $3,000 claimers at Turf Paradise," he said. "Now I'm winning Grade 1's and handicaps."

Dark Nose gets dam off to hot start

Dark Nose cleared a major hurdle last Sunday at Santa Anita. In his first start around two turns, the California-bred 3-year-old led wire to wire in an open allowance to emerge as a leading contender for the $250,000 Snow Chief Stakes on April 30 at Hollywood. Dark Nose would be a fitting winner of that 1 1/8-mile race for statebred 3-year-olds.

A son of Bertrando out of the California-bred, Grade 2-placed mare Cookin Vickie, Dark Nose is trained by Lewis Cenicola, who bred and owns the colt with Larry Jett. Cenicola also bred and owns Cookin Vickie. She won four races and $232,627 in 28 starts, and is off to a good start with Dark Nose, her first foal. Dark Nose has won 2 of 5 starts, and earned a 92 Beyer Speed Figure for his first race at one mile.

"I wanted to stretch him out, but I was surprised he hung on," Cenicola said.

Dark Nose had a chip taken out of a knee after a maiden win last summer, and entered the allowance with only one sprint prep. Setting a fast pace (46.04 seconds and 1:10.36), he won by a nose in 1:37.36.

"If he's a good horse, he should improve five lengths," Cenicola said.

Dark Nose's dam, Cookin Vickie, finished second in the 1999 Lady's Secret Handicap, and hopes are high for her 2-year-old filly Cathrine's Hope, who, Cenicola said, "has shown a little quality."

She will run at Hollywood Park.

In February, Cookin Vickie foaled an In Excess colt, and she is being bred back to Bertrando.

- additional reporting by Brad Free