09/01/2005 12:00AM

Distance key in matchup of stars


Catchmeinyourdreams, a Grade 1 winner at 400 and 440 yards, meets Prankster CF, who is riding a five-race winning streak at 870 yards, in the Grade 2, $71,370 MBNA America California Challenge Championship at 440 yards on Saturday night at Los Alamitos in Southern California.

The winner will receive an invitation to the Grade 1, $350,000 MBNA America Challenge Championship on Nov. 5 at Los Alamitos with the home-track advantage against the other nine horses that qualify in different regions.

Catchmeinyourdreams, the 2004 champion aged gelding, was in his best form last fall when he won the Grade 1 Go Man Go Invitational at 400 yards and returned to win the Grade 1 Los Alamitos Championship at 440 yards. Those two wins made him the favorite in the Grade 1 Champion of Champions, in which he finished a close fourth, beaten by a neck.

Trainer Chris O'Dell gave Catchmeinyourdreams a five-month rest before bringing him back in the Grade 1 Spencer Childers California Championship at 400 yards, his latest start, on July 30. The 6-year-old Catchmeinyourdreams ran a strong second, finishing a neck behind defending world champion Be a Bono.

With Prankster CF, trainer Paul Jones is making the rare move of shortening a horse from 870 yards for a graded stakes on the straightaway. Prankster CF is Quarter Horse racing's most dominant distance horse with wins at 870 yards in his last five outs.

In his second start around the turn, on Dec. 12, Prankster CF won the Grade 1 Marathon National by a nose in a stretch duel with the Thoroughbred Bang. This year, Prankster CF has not been threatened, winning the Grade 3 Moonshiner Handicap by five lengths, the El Ocho Setenta Handicap by 4 1/4 lengths, and the Jim Smith Handicap by two lengths.

"He's versatile; he can go short or long," Jones said. "He worked 350 yards in 17.90 and was under wraps. That's as fast as stakes horses go."

Prankster CF wins his 870-yard races by gaining a clear advantage on the backstretch, then maintaining his momentum through the lane, showing that he does have speed for the first 440 yards. Also, he has made three starts at 440 yards, all in trials at Ruidoso Downs, and has seconds in his 2003 All American Futurity trial and his 2004 Rainbow Derby trial. He finished fifth behind eventual Champion of Champions winner Cash for Kas in their All American Derby trial.

Also in the California Challenge Championship is Hadtobenuts, making his Los Alamitos debut. He travels well - 9 career wins from 15 starts at five tracks. He comes off a half-length win in the 400-yard Mr Jet Moore Handicap at Ruidoso Downs.

Last year, Hadtobenuts ran second in the Grade 1 Texas Classic Derby as the 6-5 favorite and third in the Grade 1 All American Derby behind champions Brimmerton and Cash for Kas.

Rich Grade 1's go off this weekend

The Grade 1, $1.9 million All American Futurity and the Grade 1, $819,388 All American Derby at Ruidoso Downs, two of Quarter Horse racing's premier events, highlight Labor Day weekend.

Monday's All American Futurity became a wide-open race when Leading Spirit, winner of the Ruidoso and Rainbow futurities, did not qualify for the All American finals in the 16 time trials on Aug. 18. Heading the juveniles that qualified for the $1 million first-place check are fastest-qualifier Make a Secret and Rainbow Futurity fourth-place finisher Shesnowlady.

In Sunday's All American Derby, DM Shicago will be a solid choice to sweep the three summer derbies at the New Mexico mountain track. This summer, he won the Grade 1 Ruidoso Derby and the Grade 1 Rainbow Derby after winning last year's All American Futurity in a stakes record 21.000 seconds for 440 yards.