09/02/2003 12:00AM

Defending champ Ninebanks wins Cal Turf Championship


SAN MATEO, Calif. - Ninebanks ($5.80) got a perfect stalking trip behind dueling leaders Obermeister and Long Gone Con as he repeated his 2002 victory, edging last year's runner-up Surprise Halo by a neck in the $100,000 California Turf Championship at Bay Meadows on Monday.

Ninebanks broke from the outside but quickly got over to the rail behind Obermeister and Long Gone Con. He pulled to the lead in the stretch and withstood Surprise Halo's late charge to win the one-mile turf test for Cal-breds in 1:37.47. Native Desert, a three-time winner of the race, was third another 2 1/2 lengths back.

Ninebanks, a 5-year-old gelding owned by Peter Abruzzo, has now won six of 10 starts over the Longden Turf Course. He defeated Surprise Halo by one-half length last year.

"He's been running against Candy Ride and horses like that," winning trainer Jerry Hollendorfer said. "He likes this course, and Ronnie (Warren Jr., his jockey) knows this course."

Warren said the race "came off too sweet."

He said, "When he gets position like this, he's tough to beat. Today he was able to get over and save ground early, but I had so much horse, I didn't worry about saving ground around the second turn. I just looked back to make sure no one got the jump on me.

Ninebanks earned $51,700 to increase his career earnings to $587,093 with 10 victories in 32 starts.