08/29/2006 11:00PM

'Ferndale' big threat as closer on turf

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ALBANY, Calif. - What was almost a move of desperation has paid off well for trainer Gil Matos and his horse Ferndale Sal.

"Basically, it was let's give him a shot," Matos said of the decision to try the 3-year-old colt on the turf.

Ferndale Sal is now a bona fide turf specialist, and has made four of his past five starts on the grass.

Matos keeps him on the turf for Friday's Golden Gate Fields feature, a $32,000 claimer for 3-year-olds at a mile. Ferndale Sal drew the No. 3 post in the field of seven.

The colt has showed versatility in his races. He sat well off the pace in his first turf race and finished well. Returned to the dirt, he sat in more of a stalking position.

Before Ferndale Sal's second turf start, jockey Joe Castro suggested to Matos that he would like to take the colt farther back off the pace.

The strategy worked, as Ferndale Sal came flying late and won a $25,000 claimer. He has run consistently in allowance company since then, and is returning to the claiming ranks on Friday for the first time since that win on April 20.

"He showed speed early in his career, but now he wants to lay back and make one run," Matos said. "That's typical of 2-year-olds."

Matos said the one-run strategy might be a style many horses like, but trainers sometimes don't let horses run as they prefer.

"We always want the horse a little too close," he said.

A late-running style works well on the turf, which could be a reason Ferndale Sal has been so successful since switching surfaces.

"He hits the stretch and gets better acceleration," Matos said. "I think he's found his best stride on the turf."

Atticus in Style may also have found a home on the turf. He has two victories and a third since switching to turf three starts ago. He makes his debut for trainer Dean Pederson, who claimed him at Santa Rosa for $20,000 on Aug. 4.

Full In and Bridge Too Far are also turf winners. Bridge Too Far could challenge Ten in Front early, while Full In may be positioned between the stalker Atticus in Style and Ferndale Sal.

* Six runners including Now Victory, coming off a win in the $101,000 Joseph T. Grace at Santa Rosa, will meet in Saturday's $50,000-added China Basin at 1 1/16 miles on the turf. Stakes winner Charmvictor, graded-stakes-placed Shadow Raider, On the Acorn, First Rate Event, and Cummiskey were also entered.