10/01/2002 12:00AM

Coffey careful not to lose filly on claim


SAN MATEO, Calif. - Trainer Junior Coffey has come south again for the winter.

Based in Washington, where he was an outstanding running back for the University of Washington before playing for Green Bay, Atlanta, and the New York Giants in the NFL, Coffey began coming to northern California more than 20 years ago to run when first Longacres and now Emerald Downs ended their meeting.

He sends out an improving 2-year-old filly, Best Practices, in Thursday's co-feature at Bay Meadows, a 5 1/2-furlong race for $25,000 claimers.

Best Practices made her debut at Emerald on June 28 in an $8,000 claimer. She ran a good second after having trouble leaving the gate and was claimed by trainer Steve Bullock.

Entered for $16,000 on Aug. 31, she broke alertly and made short work of the field.

"The owner's wife picked her out when she was claimed," Coffey said. "When she ran and won, they wanted to send her to California. Their trainer wasn't coming because of the [workers' comp] hassles, but I was coming down so they asked me to find some spots to run her."

Though she's stepping up in class, Best Practices, one of three Emerald fillies in the field, looks as if she will fit well.

She earned a 62 Beyer in her maiden victory, which ties Topaz Jewel for the best last-race Beyer and is only one point under the career best of Dollar Cat.

Coffey, who has nine horses in his barn, admits to playing things conservatively first time out.

"If I ran her for $12,500 or $16,000, there's the possibility of losing her," he said. "People are always looking for new, fresh horses."

Coffey said it takes some time to determine the proper level at which to run horses when shipping to different locales.

"You try to protect your stock until you find out where they fit at a new place," he said.

Coffey, who stables his horses at Golden Gate Fields, has given Best Practices one easy work since his arrival in northern California.

"I just blew her out," he said. "She's got enough condition to get her to run."

* Saturday's $100,000 California Sprint Championship may have only five runners but is laden with speed. Nine of the 10 nominees have consistently run sub-45 second half-miles, including 119-pound highweight El Dorado Shooter.

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