04/15/2004 12:00AM

Capitano's resume best in Cal Derby

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SAN MATEO, Calif. - Saturday's $100,000 at Bay Meadows may have a small field, but the 1 1/8-mile race will be an important measuring stick for each of the seven runners in the field.

Only one of the seven runners has defeated winners - Trieste's Honor, who is seeking his third straight victory in northern California.

Capitano is the most accomplished of the runners, with 1 win and 4 seconds in 7 starts and $154,140 in earnings. He has run second in a pair of Grade 2 races, the Best Pal at Del Mar and Norfolk at Oak Tree as a 2-year-old. He also ran second in the Grade 3 El Camino Real Derby in his last start.

The only time he did not earn a check was when he ran sixth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile.

"He continues to improve," trainer Ray Bell said. "Instead of getting caught up in Derby hype, we are looking for a spot where he can get a win. Most of these look like allowance-type horses. They don't have top-class stakes experience."

Erik's the Charm, sixth in the Pasadena Handicap in his last start, is the only other runner in the field with stakes experience. He won his maiden in his start before the Pasadena.

Capitano alternated on the lead in the El Camino, grabbed the lead in the lane, and then one of his quirks cost him.

"He seemed to gear himself down, and it looked like three would go past him, but he finished with conviction when he saw the other horses," Bell said.

Melanyhasthepapers enters the race off a maiden victory and was second to Louisiana Derby winner Wimbledon two starts ago.

"He wasn't as good [as a 2-year-old] as he is now," said owner-trainer Alfredo Marquez, who purchased the colt when his former client Ron Anson got out of racing.

"We gave him time, and he kind of woke up late. I think he's an honest 3-year-old. I think he's got ability. I think he can handle the others, but we'll find out."

In his maiden win, Melanyhasthepapers came from farther off the pace than in previous races and raced wide. That effort convinced Marquez to try him in a stakes race. That style could work well here with everyone else wanting to be close to the pace.

Meanwhile, Capitano and Trieste's Honor seem the most likely to battle for the lead.