07/30/2004 11:00PM

Comebacking Halo Cat captures Finley Handicap

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SANTA ROSA, Calif. - Halo Cat ($5.80), part of a favored three-horse entry, made his first start in 13 months and rallied along the rail to capture the $42,930 Ernest Finley Handicap at the Sonoma County Fair on Saturday.

Halo Cat, breaking from the outside in the field of eight, beat defending champion My Captain by 1 1/4 lengths, covering six furlongs in 1:07.93. He had not run since finishing fourth in the Sam Whiting at Pleasanton on June 29, 2003.

"The race looked like it set up well, and he's been training nicely," said winning jockey Russell Baze, who had been working the 6-year-old gelding.

Baze got over quickly as a four-horse speed duel developed down the backstretch.

El Dorado Shooter moved to the front nearing the turn and opened up on the turn, going the opening half in 42.71, while Baze was trapped behind horses. El Dorado Shooter had a two-length advantage heading into the stretch, but My Captain, who broke alertly and challenged him, was moving up nicely.

Baze found room at the rail midway around the turn and was moving best of all.

"Some horses seemed to back up on the turn, and I had to steady him," Baze said of Halo Cat. "When things opened up, he really charged."

Halo Cat, who won three stakes at Golden Gate Fields during the 2002-03 meeting when he first arrived in California, was not to be denied when he finally got room. He took over the at the eighth pole and continued resolutely to the wire.

"He had some speed to set him up," winning trainer Jerry Hollendorfer said. "Russell found himself trapped, but he got through. He always seems to come through in big races."

Halo Cat earned $23,435 to lift his career earnings to $356,430 with his 10th victory in 27 starts.