06/03/2001 11:00PM

Feature is anybody's race

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SAN MATEO, Calif. - Hyder, who finished third in a similar spot on April 25, should be the slight favorite in the optional claiming feature at Bay Meadows Wednesday.

The six-furlong race is restricted to 3-year-olds and up who have not won twice, or are in for a $40,000 claiming price. Hyder, who has already won at the second allowance level, is one of three who is in for the tag.

This race looks wide open, as six of the eight entrants appear virtually inseparable on paper. The main appeal of Hyder is that he has already won at this level, he is very consistent and appears to be improving.

He was claimed by trainer R.L. Martin for just $16,000 on Sept. 27, and has three wins, one second and two thirds in eight starts since then while going up the ladder. One of his two out-of-the-money finishes during that time came when he tried a mile.

In his most recent start, he was third, but was beaten only two lengths by the winner, Flom's Prospector, who subsequently won the Saratoga Handicap May 26.

You and You Alone was a second, a nose in front of Hyder, in the April 25 race, his first start since last May. He is an obvious major threat in Wednesday's race.

Others who figure strongly include Soon to Be Seated, who was second at this level in his last main-track race; Tony's Royalty, a 3-year-old who will be facing older rivals for the first time but may have a pace advantage; Royal Irish, who finished a close fourth at Hollywood Park last time, and Splendid Splinter, who was second in a turf sprint May 17 while returning from an eight-month layoff.

Tarnished Hoover in Ascot

Hoovergetthekeys, the Cinderella horse who has lost a little of his luster in his last two starts, is expected to head the field in the $100,000, Grade 3 Ascot Handicap at 1 1/16 miles on the turf at Bay Meadows Sunday.

Hoovergetthekeys was claimed out of his career debut by trainer Brian Koriner for $32,000, and went on to win the Golden Gate Derby and El Camino Real Derby. Since then, however, he has finished seventh in the Lone Star Derby and third in the restricted Snow Chief at Hollywood Park as the 2-1 favorite.

Hoovergetthekeys will be making just his second start on turf. On Dec. 30, he finished second to Sea to See in a turf allowance race at Golden Gate. Like Hoovergetthekeys, Sea to See has come a long way since that race, and he is also expected to be in the Ascot field. Most recently, the Bill Delia-trained colt finished a close fourth despite traffic trouble in the Grade 3 Will Rogers at Hollywood Park.

Also expected to start are Cherokee Kim, Imperial Measure, Key Document, Sigfreto, and Sir Alfred.