11/28/2005 1:00AM

Cause to Believe ascends to top


ALBANY, Calif. - The 2-year-old picture in northern California is coming into focus.

The best juvenile in action is Cause to Believe, a Jerry Hollendorfer-trained horse who won his third straight stakes Saturday in the Mill Valley and is getting better each time out.

Looming in the background, though, is Frisco Star, who broke a 20-year-old track record at Santa Rosa in his debut Aug. 6, when he scored by 8 1/2 lengths.

Jockey Russell Baze, who has ridden both horses, refuses to compare the two, but said he knows he is sitting pretty for the early part of 2006.

Plan A for Cause to Believe is the Bay Meadows Mile on Jan. 2, followed by the Grade 3, $250,000 El Camino Real Derby at 1 1/16 miles on Jan. 29.

Baze, who also won Friday's $100,000 Forty Niner Handicap aboard Trickey Trevor, said Cause to Believe showed him a new dimension in the Mill Valley with his willingness to run into the dirt as he moved into contention. Previously, Cause to Believe had shied away from being hit by dirt. Baze also said Cause to Believe is maturing and training better in the morning.

Also-rans plot next starts

Hollendorfer said he was pleased by the effort of Passive Income, who rallied from last to finish fourth after a troubled trip in the Mill Valley.

"He'll come back in an allowance race, but he'll probably have to face Sherman's horse," Hollendorfer said, referring to the Art Sherman-trained Barber, who set the pace in the Mill Valley and held on for second in a very good effort.

Barber made only his second start for Sherman.

"I'm proud of my colt," Sherman said. "My horse rocketed out of there. He does everything right in the morning. He goes into the starting gate, and he's so relaxed it's like he falls asleep until the gate opens."

Sherman said he will "play it by ear," but is hoping a first-level allowance sprint will fill. Although Barber has taken the lead with his natural speed in both starts, Sherman said he believes Barber will rate and told jockey Dennis Carr he didn't have to be on the lead Saturday.

Don Jaun Con dies after race

Speedy stakes winner Don Jaun Con was pulled up immediately upon leaving the gate for the Mill Valley when jockey Chad Schvaneveldt heard a loud pop from the colt's right rear leg.

Don Jaun Con died in his barn Saturday night.

"We were trying everything we could to help save him, but he ended up passing on his own," said trainer William E. Morey. "Most likely it was from severe hemorrhaging, but that's a best guess and assumption at this point. There will be an autopsy. It's just a real sad situation."

Sweet Roberto wins second straight

Baze also rode Sweet Roberto to a game allowance victory on the main track for Hollendorfer on Sunday. Sweet Roberto was coming off a maiden win on the turf after a series of frustrating runner-up efforts.

"We were sitting nicely off the pace, and I had a good hold of him when he took off down the backstretch," Baze said. "Fortunately, there was room along the rail for him. I'm surprised he held on so well considering how early he moved."

Sweet Roberto and Moonlite Romance battled head and head the final half-mile, with Sweet Roberto winning a head bob at the wire.

Riders serving suspensions

In addition to Baze, who will serve a three-day suspension Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, Kevin Krigger and Jorge Ayarza will begin three-day suspensions this week.

Krigger will sit Friday through Sunday for causing interference in the stretch in last Thursday's fourth race. His mount, Big Stan B, was disqualified from fourth to sixth. Ayarza will miss Saturday, Sunday, and next Wednesday for a similar offense that saw Bailey's Yodeler set down to eighth from third in Friday's fifth race.

Charity stallion auction starts soon

Bidding for Glen Ellen Vocational Academy's annual stallion season fundraiser begins Saturday and runs through Dec. 17. All proceeds go to GEVA, northern California's only nonprofit horse rescue and rehabilitation facility.

Bidding, with a $500 minimum and $50 incremental raises, is done at www.glenellenfarms.com/geva, where an updated stallion roster also appears. For more information, call GEVA at (707) 527-8092.

* Bins for unwrapped children's gifts have been set around the racetrack to provide presents for the annual Christmas party for grooms and their families on Dec. 15 in the Turf Club. In addition to gifts, tax-deductible donations can be made to the Race Track Chaplaincy of America.

* Sixteen 3-year-old fillies were nominated for Saturday's $50,000-added Angel Island Stakes at six furlongs. They include Thrilling Victory, who beat older in the Albany Handicap here in her last start, and Lunachick, winner of the Vallejo Stakes here last spring.