10/31/2002 1:00AM

A chance to win something big in the California Cup program


ARCADIA, Calif. - Fade to Blue, a $25,000 claim in April 2000, continues to reap awards for owner Richard Englander and trainer Nick Canani.

In the last 2 1/2 years, he has won four races and more than $200,000. More recently, Fade to Blue has been competitive in races for $40,000 to $50,000 claimers, making him eligible for Saturday's first race on the California Cup program at Santa Anita - the $50,000 Starter Handicap over 1 1/2 miles on turf.

It is a race Fade to Blue will be favored to win.

The Starter Handicap is restricted to horses that have started for $40,000 or less. Later in the program, there is a six-furlong Starter Handicap for statebreds that have started for $32,000 or less.

For several runners in both races, the $50,000 purses are the largest prizes they will realistically attempt to win this year.

Fade to Blue became eligible for the Starter Handicap on turf when he raced at the $40,000 level at Del Mar in September, finishing third at 1 3/8 miles on turf. He subsequently won a starter handicap at 1 3/8 miles on dirt at Fairplex Park on Sept. 29 by a convincing 2 1/4 lengths.

The distance of Saturday's Starter Handicap works in favor of Fade to Blue, who finished third in a $50,000 claimer over 1 1/2 miles in June at Hollywood Park. Meanwhile, some of the other starters are trying the marathon distance for the first time.

Windy's Halo has been first or second in four of his last five starts, but those races were over 6 1/2 and seven furlongs. Bold Mango won the Derby Trial Stakes over 1 1/16 miles at Fairplex Park last month but ran fifth in the Pomona Derby on

Sept. 28.

The Starter Handicap for sprinters drew a field of 13, led by Stoney, the winner of four consecutive races. The 4-year-old Stoney will be a strong favorite based on his win in the California Sprint Championship Handicap at Bay Meadows on Oct. 5. Owners Stephen and Cyndi Weeks and trainer Ruben Cardenas considered the $150,000 Cal Cup Sprint for Stoney, but chose the easier spot for the former $20,000 claimer.

Stoney can lead or come from off the pace, which gives jockey Victor Espinoza options from post 11.

Eight of the 13 entrants have been claimed this year, a sign that this race has been on the agenda of several horsemen for months.

Coconut Mango and Memori were claimed for $40,000 and have since won for their new connections. Coconut Mango won his maiden in a $32,000 claimer on Aug. 28 and was second against winners at the $62,500 level on Oct. 3.

Memori has won three races since being claimed, ranging in value from $16,000 to $40,000.

Another recent claim worth following is Giovannetti, who was taken for $20,000 at Bay Meadows on Sept. 1 and returned to win an allowance race here on Oct. 9.