12/23/2003 1:00AM

Championship may determine world title


Four-time Grade 1 derby winner Oak Tree Special, riding an eight-race winning streak, faces his sternest career test in the Grade 1, $500,000 The Championship at Sunland Park on Saturday afternoon.

The picture for the 2003 world championship was not clarified two weeks ago at Los Alamitos when The Down Side was an upset winner of the $500,000 Champion of Champions, and the leading 2-year-old Hawkish was never a factor in the $1.3 million Los Alamitos Million. Thus, The Championship, with seven horses in the field with at least one 2003 Grade 1 stakes win, could prove a pivotal race in determining the 2003 world champion.

The Championship's impact on championship voting is enhanced because it is held on the year's final weekend, and championship ballots will be distributed during the first week of 2004.

A victory by Oak Tree Special would show voters that he was more than a dominant derby horse in Texas and Oklahoma. It would show he could defeat the top older sprinters from Los Alamitos and New Mexico. It would also boost the colt's prospects in the keen competition for champion 3-year-old. Last year's champion 2-year-old and 2003 Los Alamitos Derby winner AB What a Runner was the beaten favorite in the Champion of Champions, and Champion of Champions winner The Down Side is a 3-year-old.

Trainer Bobby Martinez has managed Oak Tree Special to 10 wins from 12 starts this year. During his eight-race winning streak he has won the Grade 1 Retama Park Derby, Grade 1 Remington Park Derby, the Grade 1 Dash for Cash Derby (over Rainbow Derby winner Silvered Eyes), and the Grade 1 Texas Classic Derby on Nov. 28 (by a nose over The Championship entrant Southern Cartel).

Strong cases can be made for half of the deep field.

Los Alamitos invader Catchmeinyourdreams won the Grade 1, $200,000 Los Alamitos Championship, was a close second in the Grade 1, $300,000 MBNA America Challenge Championship as the 6-5 favorite, and was second in the Champion of Champions.

Trainer Janet VanBebber, who won The Championship last year with 2002 co-world champion Streakin Sin Tacha, is represented by MBNA America Challenge Championship winner Panther Mountain. He followed that Nov. 1 win with a fifth-place finish in the Champion of Champions.

Kendall Jackson thrives at Sunland Park. The 5-year-old gelding has set two world records - including The Championship's distance of 400 yards in 19.073 seconds - at Sunland Park, and has scored each of his four career stakes wins at Sunland Park.

Texas-based Gone Celebrating has five wins and a close second in his last six races, including stakes wins in his last four starts.

Refrigerator Handicap winner Special Task Force qualified for the Champion of Champions, but trainer Jack Brooks passed that race to run in The Championship.

Hidden Dragon risks record

Undefeated Hidden Dragon goes for her fifth win on Saturday in the $130,000 Shue Fly Stakes for New Mexico-bred 2-year-olds, the supporting stakes to The Championship.

Hidden Dragon won the Grade 1, $130,000 New Mexican Spring Futurity on April 5 at Sunland Park and was then laid off until she won her Shue Fly trial on Dec. 9. Hidden Dragon won her Shue Fly trial by 2 3/4 lengths in 19.425 seconds for the 400 yards, the fastest time from six trials.

Second-fastest qualifier Ongoing Ta Fame, winner of the Grade 3 Senor Futurity, scored his third straight win when he won his trial in 19.475 seconds.

Two-time futurity winner Blackgold Chips won her trial in the third-fastest qualifying time of 19.487 seconds.

Hardy duo leads Fall Futurity

Trainer Ed Hardy has a strong hand in the Grade 2, $193,108 Sunland Fall Futurity on Sunday afternoon, with the two fastest qualifiers - Strawfly Six and Sashay N Six.

Strawfly Six raced to her third straight score when she won her 400-yard Fall Futurity trial in 19.334 seconds, the fastest time from nine trials on Dec. 12.

Sashay N Six, winner of the Grade 3 Northlands Futurity at Canterbury Park, has 6 wins from 7 starts, including her Fall Futurity trial in 19.421 seconds.

Trial winner Dashin Kirk had an excellent summer at Ruidoso Downs with a win in the Grade 2 American Airlines New Mexico Challenge and qualifying for the $1.8 million All American Futurity. He defeated All American third-place finisher Planet Holland in their All American trial.