05/21/2001 12:00AM

Casino King heir apparent to Foster City title


SAN MATEO, Calif. - Casino King, who finished third in the Grade 3 Inglewood Handicap at Hollywood Park on April 21, looks tough to beat against five foes in the $50,000 Foster City Handicap at 1 1/16 miles on the turf at Bay Meadows on Sunday.

Casino King has always been a good horse - he was Grade 2-placed twice in 2000 - but he seems to be better than ever since returning from a four-month layoff and joining the Simon Bray stable. In his only two starts for Bray, he has won the $50,000 Silky Sullivan Handicap at Golden Gate Fields and finished third in the Inglewood. He set all the pace in the Inglewood, then held on well and was beaten only a length by the winner, Fateful Dream.

A 6-year-old gelding, Casino King has shown versatility, racing on the lead or from behind, and racing well over many different turf courses, including the Bay Meadows course. He was third in the 1998 Ascot Handicap here, and fourth in last year's Bay Meadows Handicap.

Casino King's main rival Sunday appears to be Lesters Boy, who looks slightly better in terms of Beyer Speed Figures but is not yet a proven turf horse. In fact, the 5-year-old Lesters Boy has raced on the grass only once, his last start.

In that race, the $175,000 Khaled for California-breds on the Hollywood Park turf, he battled it out on the pace all the way and only missed by a neck to Spinelessjellyfish, earning a 98 Beyer. A repeat of that effort would make him tough to beat, but he is not really bred for the turf and has to show that he can repeat the race on a different course.

Dahlberg, from the Richard Mandella stable, also must be considered. The 6-year-old Dahl- berg was a Group 1 winner in Brazil in 1998, and was making his first start in 2 1/2 years when he made his U.S. debut at Santa Anita on Jan. 1. After a pair of sprints there, Mandella gave him a three-month freshener, then put him in a $50,000 optional claiming race and stretched him out to 1 1/16 miles on the turf at Bay Meadows. He won that race impressively with an 89 Beyer.