10/21/2003 11:00PM

Excellent meet helps ease Calhoun's disappointment

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STICKNEY, Ill. - When Breeders' Cup Juvenile contender Cactus Ridge went down with an injury last weekend, his trainer, Bret Calhoun, felt the blow. Calhoun had never trained a horse who had so much talent, and he isn't sure he ever will again. But if Calhoun wants a cushion, he can look at his Hawthorne meet as a whole. Through Sunday, Calhoun had seven wins, four seconds, and a third from just 14 starters.

And the stable doesn't lack stakes horses. For Friday's $40,000 Money Penny Stakes, Calhoun and owner Bob Beck's Coast to Coast Racing Fund have Rebridled Dreams, graded-stakes placed in the spring and an encouraging allowance winner here Oct. 9.

"This meet's really been amazing," Calhoun said Wednesday. "We went through a stretch of six weeks or so after Lone Star when we were really struggling. We freshened some horses up, but these are the same horses. That's why it's been surprising to win at that clip."

There's a chance Rebridled Dreams will scratch from the Money Penny, a 1 1/16-mile race, and await the $100,000 Hawthorne Oaks on Nov. 15. But since the filly looks very tough Friday, Calhoun may leave her in.

"The goal is the Hawthorne Oaks, and I'm not 100-percent sure I'm going to run," Calhoun said. "I have no reason not to run, but timing is the question."

Rebridled Dreams was successful when she was stretched out to routes last spring, finishing third in the Grade 2 Silverbulletday Stakes. But she suffered a hind-leg injury in March, and only returned to racing late this summer. After finishing fifth in a sprint-prep race, Rebridled Dreams won comfortably in a two-turn race here two weeks ago.

"I was concerned jumping her to a route second time back on a deep tiring track," said Calhoun. "I know I didn't have her 100-percent tight."

Rebridled Dreams has more talent than her seven rivals Friday, and with a favorable trip she should win. But if Rebridled Dreams comes out, the race may come down to Quest for Truth and Chinese Tea, two sharp, recent winners over the track.

Marquez chasing first title

By Wednesday's third race, jockey Carlos Marquez Jr. had added two more wins to his meet-leading total of 20. That put Marquez eight wins up on his nearest pursuer and gives him a good start at winning the first riding title of his 19-year career.

"I've been waiting for this point all my career," said Marquez, who turned 36 on Tuesday. "It's finally happening."

In recent seasons, Marquez based his tack on the East Coast, and he had numerous runner-up finishes to Joe Bravo at Monmouth and The Meadowlands. After spending six months in Hong Kong, Marquez came to Chicago during the summer of 2002, and has become a fixture on the circuit. He came on strong this past summer at Arlington and has carried his momentum to Hawthorne, where many trainers are seeking his services, especially in grass races.

"I've got a lot of confidence right now," Marquez said. "It seems like every horse I'm on is running for me."