08/25/2003 11:00PM

'Fool' makes Stewart look like genius

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. - Classic Fool stunned most everyone but his trainer when he upset a couple of graded-stakes-placed horses in last Saturday's Governor's Handicap at the California State Fair.

Classic Fool, who paid $84.80, was 0 for 19 with only two seconds and two thirds coming into the race, but trainer T.J. Stewart, admittedly in the minority, believed the 4-year-old gelding had a chance to finish on the board in the race.

"I didn't really consider him a maiden," Stewart said. "He's a good horse. He should have won before, but he's been a bad-luck horse."

Classic Fool, now 4, ran in a $100,000 stakes race at Fresno as a 2-year-old, finishing fourth. Last year, he ran in the Earlene McCabe Derby at the State Fair and finished fourth again.

In his previous start to Saturday's race, a one-mile maiden race on the turf, Classic Fool closed well to be third despite traffic problems when he was shut off in the stretch while rallying against slow fractions.

Stewart is the breeder of Classic Fool. One of his clients let him keep the mare Foolish Past to settle a bill. He bred her to Desert Classic, and Classic Fool is her first foal.

"She had speed and was by one of the best studs in Arizona," Stewart said, referring to Fool the Experts.

Stewart knew that if Classic Fool did not run well in the Governor's Handicap, he would have been the one to look foolish. But there was some method to the madness.

"We're here training on the track, I wanted him to go longer, and he doesn't know he's a maiden. he said. "I looked at the noms, and I'm looking at Kent Molinaro's horse [Call It]. He's one of the favorites, and he was a $12,500 maiden winner."

Stewart did not think he could beat either Cappuchino or Metatron, two graded stakes winners trained by Jerry Hollendorfer. But the race unfolded as he suspected it might.

"I saw a speed duel that would be hellacious, and I knew my horse would sit back," Stewart said. "I told my rider that my horse would run tough in the lane. I told him just to let him run in the lane."

It worked to perfection, and Sunday morning, well-wishers stopped by Stewart's barn with so many doughnuts that he said he wouldn't have to buy another for the remainder of the meeting.

I B Bad will work toward going longer

There was a milder upset in Sunday's Earlene McCabe Derby when I B Bad ran down favored Taraval to win the six-furlong race by a head.

I B Bad, a 3-year-old trained by Dennis Hopkins, is now 2 for 2 in his career, having won his debut on July 27 at Santa Rosa.

"I had three very good 2-year-olds last year, and he was, by far, my favorite," Hopkins said.

Typical 2-year-old shin problems forced Hopkins to send him back to the farm where I B Bad somehow got his hind legs stuck in a stall door.

"Maybe it was a godsend he didn't start as a 2-year-old," Hopkins said.

I B Bad has rallied from off the pace in both of his starts, and Hopkins believes he will eventually be a good router. He says I B Bad is "still extra green."

"I think he'll two-turn, and we'll start working toward that," Hopkins said. "We'll look to race him at Pomona. It's hard to say if he's great, but I think he's pretty good. He has a lot of talent, and he gives whatever you ask for."

Extra races possible to offset cancellaton

Dave Elliott, the state fair's director of racing, said the Sacramento meet was "doing fine" despite a big decrease in wagering on Del Mar races and a cancellation of one day after an unseasonable thunderstorm struck late Thursday.

"Del Mar is down 14 percent, but the live handle is holding its own with the exception of the missed day," he said.

Elliott said the fair would try to card additional races during the second week to make up for the lost races.

For the second year in a row, the fair offered show wagering on last Saturday's Mule Handicap despite the presence of Black Ruby, who once again finished second to Smoking Joe with Sarah Nelson third.

"I don't want to create a minus show pool liability for us or Del Mar, but I don't think there are any bridge-jumpers out there who want to bet on her," Elliott said.