01/30/2003 1:00AM

Ex-claimer goes for first stakes win


ALBANY, Calif. - Trainer Mike Mitchell wasn't looking at a recent trend in California racing when he entered Bush Triumph in Saturday's $100,000 Grade 3 Brown Bess Handicap at Golden Gate Fields.

Bush Triumph, who ran in claiming races earlier in her career, makes her stakes debut in the 1 1/16-mile turf race for fillies and mares.

If it sounds as if she's shooting for the moon, consider $12,500 claim Debonair Joe, who won the Grade 3 Vernon Underwood at Hollywood Park and the Grade 1 Malibu at Santa Anita in December, or Standard Setter, who ran for a tag early in his career and won the Grade 3 Golden Gate Derby three weeks ago.

"There's a big difference between winning a stakes race and a graded stakes race," Mitchell said. "I don't know if she'll be a graded stakes winner, but I talked to the owners and said, 'Here's a $100,000 race that is like a nonwinners of three [in Southern California].' "

A field of nine entered the race. Drawing the rail was the 118-pound highweight Crazy Ensign, who won the $100,000 Miss America over the Bay Meadows turf last spring before losing by a head in the Grade 3 Wilshire Handicap.

Southern California-based runners heading north for the race are: stakes-winning Double Cat, third after setting the pace in the Grade 2 San Gorgonio in her last start, on Jan. 11 at Santa Anita; L'Emeraude, looking for her first stakes win; Canasita; and Janeian.

Locally based Neon Queen and Lindsay Jean, along with Crazy Ensign and Double Cat figure to assure a good pace for Bush Triumph, whose preferred style of racing is to stalk the pace.

"She does like to sit back, but you can move early on her," Mitchell said.

Mitchell isn't sure how Bush Triumph will handle the softer turf she will get on Saturday, but one thing he is sure of is that she can handle adversity. During a five-race winning streak, beginning with her maiden victory last Aug. 19 at Del Mar, Bush Triumph overcame a myriad of problems.

In a $50,000 claimer Oct. 12 at Oak Tree, Bush Triumph blew the first turn and then bolted to the outside fence under Laffit Pincay Jr., Mitchell said. "I thought Laffit would just gallop her out, but she came flying down the middle of the track and beat a pretty nice filly," he said.

"In her next race, she was annihilated coming out of the gate, and in her next race, she had no place to run, but Laffit found a place. I don't know who has more heart, her or Pincay."

Frank Alvarado will ride Bush Triumph Saturday, subbing for Pincay who will be at Turf Paradise.

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