12/11/2003 1:00AM

Catch 'Herc' if you can


ALBANY, Calif. - Trainer Gary Stute isn't sure where The Herc will be at the end of Saturday's $75,000-added Gold Rush Stakes at Golden Gate Fields, but Stute knows where he will be early.

With the speed to run a half mile in 44 seconds, The Herc will be the horse eight other 2-year-olds are chasing in the one-mile race, which attracted five stakes winners.

The Herc is the lone multiple stakes winner in the field. He captured the Sunny Slope at Santa Anita in his first start after Stute claimed him for $50,000 from an Oct. 9 maiden win, and the Golden Bear on Nov. 23 at Golden Gate. Between those two six-furlong stakes victories, The Herc ran ninth in the one-mile Pinjara on the turf.

"He worked seven-eighths before the turf race and worked well, but that race turned out to be a big mess," said Stute, who helped his father, Mel, campaign the Cal-bred Snow Chief when he won the Preakness in 1986. "Instead of letting him go, Kent Desormeaux tried to rate him a bit, then he got clobbered turning for home, so I'm just throwing that race out.

"We'll find out Saturday about a mile. He has quite a bit of natural speed, and I have Matt Garcia riding him. Matt's one of the best when a horse is stretching out. He drops the reins and seems to get a horse to relax instead of keeping him against the bit."

There is no other speed in the race, which could make for clear sailing for The Herc if he relaxes up front. Stute believes The Herc, a son of Lord Carson, can get a mile, although not much farther.

"I almost didn't claim him because he's not a Cal-bred," said Stute, who originally was intrigued by another horse in the maiden race, a statebred named Go Wild. "The other horse scratched, but The Herc had drawn my attention.

"I was surprised I was the only claim in the race. In his first race, he was in front of Siphonizer early. In his next race, he got left but came flying. That's what impressed me."

Corvallis Dee, winner of the $100,000 Gottstein at 1 1/16 miles, will be coming late. He should relish the mud. The track was muddy Thursday and more rain is forecast for Saturday.

"I don't know how good my horse is," said Corvallis Dee's trainer, Bud Klokstad, "but he's nice and a trier, and these Slewledos run good in the mud."