11/24/2002 1:00AM

Figueroa, Buddy Gil win first stakes


ALBANY, Calif. - Buddy Gil ($16.60), sitting closer to the pace than expected, won the $65,600 Golden Bear Stakes at Golden Gate Fields on Sunday, providing jockey Omar Figueroa with his first stakes victory.

Buddy Gil, who won a one-mile maiden race in his previous start, wore down early leaders Gray Jag and Timely Jeff to win the six-furlong stakes for 2-year-olds by 7.5 lengths. The winning time was 1:10.64.

Gray Jag took the lead down the backstretch with Timely Jeff creeping within a head of him through a 22.19 opening quarter. Buddy Gil was third, one length behind them, while three wide.

Timely Jeff began to fade from between horses on the turn as Buddy Gil moved up, took command in the lane and pulled away with Natural Balance finishing second.

"My horse is doing great, and I think this track was tiring and might have helped him," winning trainer Chuck Jenda said.

"I was a surprised to see him laying just off the early pace. I told Omar to jack him out and give him a little breather. I thought he'd be four or five (lengths) behind, but the horse was just dragging him around. I knew once he got the lead they wouldn't catch him. I just didn't know if he'd get the lead."

Buddy Gil, who will likely run in the $75,000-added Gold Rush Stakes at a mile on Dec. 14, earned $33,650 to increase his earnings to $58,850 with two wins, a second and a third in four starts.