01/09/2002 12:00AM

Competition gets tougher for 'Dan'

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ALBANY, Calif. - A field of six with only four betting interests is likely for Saturday's running of the $125,000 Golden Gate Derby at Golden Gate Fields.

Danthebluegrassman, winner of the Dec. 15 Gold Rush Stakes here, will return for the Grade 3, 1 1/16-mile race for trainer Bob Baffert. Leading northern California trainer Jerry Hollendorfer is planning to run a three-horse entry of USS Tinosa and Cappuchino, second and third behind Danthebluegrassman in the Gold Rush, and Yougottawanna, who beat the Baffert-trained Officer in the Cal Cup Juvenile. Trainer Daryl Snow will enter Cruising Kat, and trainer James K. Chapman lists Southern California-based Natures Candy as probable.

Baffert's assistant Jim Barnes said Danthebluegrassman's impressive wire-to-wire victory in the Gold Rush made the Golden Gate Derby a natural spot for his next race.

Danthebluegrassman got an easy lead in the Gold Rush, which makes it "hard to tell" how much he is improving, Barnes said.

"He's a big, good-feeling colt," Barnes said. "He's about the same as before in training. He hasn't regressed, so I guess he is going forward."

The Golden Gate Derby will be Danthebluegrassman's toughest race because of the distance and the competition, said Barnes.

"It's tough to go farther on the front end, but it's his best way of going," Barnes said. "A lot of horses get big on the lead."

Jockey Joe Steiner, who will ride Danthebluegrassman Saturday after guiding him to the win in the Gold Rush, said after that race, "I only asked him the last part to see if he'd kick home, and he did."

One intriguing local prospect, Attabrook, is skipping the race.

"I didn't have time to get him as prepared as I wanted," said his trainer, Lonnie Arterburn.

The series of storms since Christmas made Attabrook miss several key works. Arterburn hopes that Attabrook, who won his debut at a mile despite racing greenly, will be seasoned enough to run in the El Camino Real Derby on March 9. Arterburn said he would like to run Attabrook in an allowance race and then in the Golden State Mile here Feb. 10.

Is It True Mex risks streak

Friday's most interesting race is the first. It's a $40,000 claiming race for older horses at 4 1/2 furlongs on the turf.

One of the favorites, Is It True Mex, has won five straight, all at the distance on turf for a $12,500 claiming price. A 6-year-old gelding, he was finally claimed out of his last race Dec. 8 by trainer John F. Martin.

He'll be challenged by three comebackers, the stakes-winning Highland Gold, Santano, and Winitall. Millennium Song, who won his last start on Jan. 2 for a $25,000 tag, also is a contender.

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