03/04/2002 1:00AM

El Camino Real Week begins with tough allowance


ALBANY, Calif. - One year ago, trainer Brian Koriner was preparing for the biggest race of his life with Hoovergetthekeys in the El Camino Real Derby.

Hoovergetthekeys won that race, and this year he will kick start Derby Week at Golden Gate Fields in Wednesday's featured 1 1/16-mile allowance race.

As tough as the field was in last year's El Camino Real Derby, with the likes of Startac, Mo Mon, and San Nicolas, Wednesday's feature could be even tougher.

I'madrifter, winner of the $100,000 Lafayette Handicap on New Year's Day, and Takin It Deep, last year's California Derby winner, join Hoovergetthekeys as major stakes winners in the field of eight runners.

"He's going good. He just hasn't developed into a great horse," said Koriner, who claimed Hoovergetthekeys for $32,000. "He's not a world beater, but he's a little money machine."

Hoovergetthekeys hasn't won since his El Camino victory, but he has earned $322,040 with four wins, two seconds, and three thirds in 17 starts.

He was third behind I'madrifter in the Lafayette and ran fourth in the Ken Maddy Sprint Handicap at six furlongs on Feb. 23. "He needed a race," Koriner said. "He got $7,500, which is better than getting nothing for a workout. And you learn more about your horse each time you race him."

There seems to be plenty of speed in the race, which could set things up for Hoovgergetthekeys's late run.

"Somebody's still got to go with I'madrifter," Koriner said. "If nobody does that, he'll win the race."

A year after the El Camino victory, Koriner finds himself in a period of transition after serving a two-month suspension for a drug positive.

"Coming off the suspension, I'm trying to regroup. And there are all the problems with worker's comp," he said. "It leaves everything in the air. Is this where I want to stay?

"I was thinking of going to [Lone Star in] Texas, but it's a tough meet there with big fields, and Bay Meadows is an owners' meet because of the smaller fields."

* Fans can meet their favorite trainers and jockeys Thursday, March 7, from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at The Hotel Mac in Point Richmond. Tickets are $10.

* A five-day, four-night trip to the 2002 Kentucky Derby or three-day, two-night stay in Reno are the prizes in the annual Kentucky Derby drawing to benefit the Glen Ellen Vocational Academy, northern California's equine retirement foundation. Donations are $10 per ticket or 12 for $100.