09/23/2004 11:00PM

Christmas Time vs. Pheiffer a seventh time

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SAN MATEO, Calif. - It took some extra time, but Christmas Time and Pheiffer are set to renew their rivalry in Sunday's $55,000-added Charles H. Russell Handicap at Bay Meadows.

Only eight were nominated to the six-furlong race for fillies and mares, and only six signed on, including Christmas Time's stablemate Gonetorule.

Christmas Time and Pheiffer have met six times this year, with Christmas Time finishing in front of Pheiffer in four of the six meetings.

The two were entered to meet in the Elie Destruel Handicap at Santa Rosa on Aug. 9, but Christmas Time scratched after drawing the rail.

Both Ron Warren Jr., who rides Pheiffer, and Russell Baze, who rides Christmas Time, think it will be a good race.

"They're consistent. That's for sure," said Baze.

"It will be no surprise if either one wins," said Warren.

Both horses are at their best using speed from the start, though both can stalk the pace, too. And the ability to stalk might come into play Sunday because of the presence of Jetinto Houston, who might be quickest out of the gate.

The draw could also play a role in the outcome as well, with Jetinto Houston in the No. 4 post, Christmas Time in the 5, and Pheiffer in the 6. Starting inside the other two, Jetinto Houston almost has to go for the lead.

Despite the small field, the decision to run did not come easily for trainer Jeff Bonde, who entered Off to the Opera for her first start since losing by a head in a $32,000 claimer at five furlongs on the turf on June 17.

Off to the Opera has won 4 of 15 starts and could get a good trip behind the three speed horses. But she was running for a $12,500 tag last spring and might not have as much class as Christmas Time and Pheiffer have.

"I don't mind taking a shot if my horse is competitive," Bonde said. "I don't want to send one out off a layoff to get their brains beat out and then need a few races to get them back after that because their confidence is affected."

Normandy Princess, seeking her first U.S. victory, rounds out the field.