12/02/2003 1:00AM

Dancin Candy brings top fig vs. Gold Lad


ALBANY, Calif. - It's been a tough year for trainer Bill McLean, who has saddled only nine winners in 2003.

He hopes to increase that total at Golden Gate Fields on Thursday when he sends out Dancin Candy in a $40,000 starter allowance for 2-year-olds at a mile.

Dancin Candy likely will not be favored in the field of six. Gold Lad, who last ran in the Bay Meadows Juvenile after graduating in a maiden race at a mile, is the probable favorite.

Dancin Candy, though, comes off a strong victory at a mile, out of which McLean claimed him for $32,000 on Oct. 23. Dancin Candy's

73 Beyer Speed Figure that day is the highest in Thursday's field, and he already has defeated one of of his main rivals, Walter Ringer, twice.

"Wes Gilbert [who heads the ownership group] really liked this colt when he saw him running for $20,000 at Bay Meadows," McLean said. "He said if he ran back for $20,000 to claim him."

Dancin Candy was second the day Gilbert noticed him and ran for $32,000 in his next start, finishing second again.

"Wes said he would go for $32,000 if his partners agreed, and they did," said McLean, who dropped the claim in Dancin Candy's next start when he again ran for $32,000.

"We've been looking for this spot since we claimed him," McLean said. "He'll be well worth the money if he can route, and, if not, he'll be a solid $25-32,000 horse sprinting."

Dancin Candy has had three seven-furlong works since the claim to maintain condition. He then had a brisk five-furlong drill Saturday.

Debonair Joe probable for Oakland Handicap

Debonair Joe, a Cinderella story last year when he went from a $12,500 claimer to Grade 1 winner, could make his first start since August in Saturday's $60,000-added Oakland Handicap, according to his trainer, Sergio Ledezma.

"He's doing great, but we'll see how he does this week before making a decision," Ledezma said. "Right now, we're just playing it by ear."

After being claimed at Fairplex in September 2002, Debonair Joe scored a $107.60 upset in the Grade 3 Vernon Underwood at Hollywood Park. He followed that race with $55.60 stunner in the Grade 1 Malibu at Santa Anita. A start before the Underwood, he won a $40,000 optional claimer in the mud at Golden Gate Fields.

Debonair Joe is one of 10 nominees for the six-furlong race on Saturday.

Boston Common, a Grade 2 winner; More Crafty and My Captain, who ran one-two in the six-furlong Albany Handicap on opening weekend; comebackers Bring Home Thegold, Onebadshark, and Radar Contact; Sirpa; The Student; and Zayed also are nominated.