11/01/2001 12:00AM

Ceeband has staked his claim to fame


ARCADIA, Calif. - Four months ago, Ceeband beat Squirtle Squirt at odds of 44-1 in the Grade 2 Triple Bend Handicap at Hollywood Park.

Squirtle Squirt went on to win the Breeders' Cup Sprint at Belmont Park last weekend, while Ceeband spent the summer and early part of the fall successfully proving that the Triple Bend was not a fluke result.

Though a quick pace in the Triple Bend helped Ceeband's late kick, he has since won the California Sprint Championship at Bay Meadows on Oct. 6. On Saturday, Ceeband starts as the favorite in the $150,000 California Cup Sprint at Santa Anita.

Ceeband shares top weight of 121 pounds with Men's Exclusive in the six-furlong Sprint.

"Beating Squirtle Squirt probably cost us a pound," said trainer John Sadler in a not-too-serious tone.

What has become a serious topic is Ceeband's ability at six furlongs; his other five career wins came over seven furlongs. Before the win at Bay Meadows, Sadler was concerned that six furlongs would be too short for Ceeband, but the Oct. 6 win showed that the 4-year-old can be effective at a shorter trip.

In the California Cup Sprint, Ceeband faces a deeper field.

Gibson County, second to Ceeband at Bay Meadows, will set the pace with the longshot Always Game. Two stalkers, Men's Exclusive and Trailthefox, may get first run on the front-runners, but will be closely followed by

the longshot Stormy Jack and Ceeband.

The scenario is similar to the Bay Meadows race. Ceeband will be at the back early, and closing late.

"Gibson County got a fairly easy lead last time and we still ran him down," Sadler said.

Men's Exclusive and Trailthefox are serious contenders.

Men's Exclusive has had a limited campaign this year, winning 1 of 4 starts but earning $520,000. An 8-year-old, he won the Grade 2 Palos Verdes Handicap on Jan. 28 in one of the best performances of his career. That was followed by a creditable second to fellow California invader Caller One in the $2 million Dubai Golden Shaheen in the Middle East on March 24.

Trained by Wesley Ward, Men's Exclusive has yet to regain that form, finishing sixth in the Grade 2 True North Handicap at Belmont Park on June 9 and seventh in the Vanderbilt Handicap at Saratoga on Aug. 5.

Trailthefox is also coming off a rest and was a stakes winner at Santa Anita earlier this year, having won the Zany Tactics Stakes for California-bred 3-year-olds last April. Most recently, he was third in the Shepperton Stakes at Woodbine on Aug. 18.

To his credit, Trailthefox has been working well. On Monday, he went five furlongs in 58.40 seconds, the fastest of 59 works at the distance.

The fast time could be a sign that Trailthefox will be close to the pace, which could help Ceeband.

"We need some pace, but I can't lose too much sleep over it," Sadler said.

Bred by the late Cecilia Straub-Rubens, who bred two-time Breeders' Cup Classic winner Tiznow, Ceeband is having a career season this year. Owned by CRK Stable, Ceeband has earned $271,766 of his lifetime total of $484,582.

The California Cup Sprint is not as lucrative as the Triple Bend, but it would solidify Ceeband's place among the state's sprinters.