03/01/2002 12:00AM

Extra yardage may be all Ceeband needs


PHOENIX - Can one more furlong make a difference? Trainer John Sadler is hoping the answer is yes.

His Ceeband was a well-beaten third last time he faced the D. Wayne Lukas-trained Snow Ridge, in the six-furlong, Grade 2 Palos Verdes Stakes on a wet-fast surface Jan. 27. But Sadler believes the late-running Ceeband can get back to the winner's circle in Sunday's Grade 1 San Carlos Handicap at Santa Anita.

"The main thing is, we're getting back to seven furlongs," Sadler said. Ceeband, a 5-year-old California-bred Chimes Band gelding, has won 7 of 29 starts, and four of the wins have come at seven furlongs.

Snow Ridge is the probable favorite, a status he firmly deserves. He has won three of his last four starts, and won his only start at seven furlongs, in an allowance at Saratoga last August. As an 18-1 outsider he jumped up and won the El Conejo at the meet's outset. In the Palos Verdes, he went off at 8-1, and left not only Ceeband behind, but also Eclipse winner Squirtle Squirt.

I was not among those backing Snow Ridge for those lucrative scores. As the saying goes, if you didn't go to the wedding, don't go to the funeral. I missed the big paydays. This time Snow Ridge figures to be in the 5-2 range.

So Ceeband is intriguing. He had long been an effective runner, but had never drawn much attention. But the scenery changed last spring. He blasted optional claiming foes in May, then was a close fifth in the 7 1/2-furlong Ack Ack. He came back to win the Grade 2 Triple Bend at seven furlongs, was a fine third in the Grade 2 Pat O'Brien at Del Mar, then rattled off big wins in the California Sprint Championship at Bay Meadows and Cal Cup Sprint at Santa Anita. He finished his year just missing in the 7 1/2-furlong On Trust at Hollywood Park on Nov. 22.

Now the distance moves back in his favor. He was 9-2 in the Palos Verdes, while Snow Ridge was 8-1. Sunday he should again be around 9-2 while the odds will plummet on Snow Ridge.

There's one more issue: In the sprint game, there are specialties within the specialty. You see many that are good at five and six furlongs. You see some that are good at six and seven furlongs. You rarely see one who is top-class from five through seven furlongs. The only exceptions are the best of the best. Is Snow Ridge yet worthy of being included in that company?

Snow Ridge is dynamite on the turns, then maintains in the straightaway. At seven furlongs, Ceeband will have had a full furlong more to gather himself up, make his own move, and offset the move made by Snow Ridge.

I'm not saying Snow Ridge can't win. He's good and once Lukas horses get good, they stay good. But don't jump on the bandwagon now when a wheel may come off at short odds.

Ceeband isn't the only alternative. Remember last March? A horse named D'wildcat, already proven to be good out West, went to Gulfstream for the Swale and flat went through the roof. It was the most dazzling sprint effort of the year. But it came with a price. He was injured and hasn't been seen since.

D'wildcat was also entered in an allowance race Saturday, though the presence of Crafty C.T. didn't make that spot any easier than the San Carlos.

Another interesting entrant is Aldebaran. A Bobby Frankel European import, he looked super winning the Nassau Handicap on turf at Belmont in October, blasting his elders. He was next seen in the Hollywood Derby, where he was third behind his freaky stablemate Denon.

Aldebaran suffered a setback this winter, but has been working strongly for his return and when in Europe he raced some sprint heavyweights going seven furlongs. The issue is dirt, but as Frankel has shown time and again with his Euros, many can make the transition. And if they handle it, the sky's the limit (see Mizzen Mast, Marquetry, Missionary Ridge, Jolypha, and Fanmore, to name a few).

My play here is Ceeband, hoping that the an extra eighth helps his run, and that Snow Ridge's 15 minutes are up.