11/06/2003 12:00AM

Form over class as Sprint tilts to claimers

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ARCADIA, Calif. - When he won the inaugural California Cup Classic in 1990 with former claiming horse My Sonny Boy, trainer Bill Spawr established a Cal Cup precedent. In stakes restricted to statebreds, class frequently takes a backseat to current form.

The pattern is likely to recur in Saturday's $150,000 California Cup Sprint. Five of the eight runners in the stakes were purchased via the claim box, including the three sharpest in the field: Highly Tempting, Spawr-trained Summer Service, and Trapper.

"You're going to see a lot of claiming horses win some of these races," Spawr said of the Cal Cup card. "They have a legitimate chance. And it's a chance for owners to make some money."

Seven horses will contest the six-furlong Sprint. Excess Summer will scratch after drawing the inside post, according to trainer Jeff Mullins. The remaining field includes 10-year-old Men's Exclusive, 8-year-old Full Moon Madness, late-runner Ride and Shine, and pace-presser Green Team. The sentimental choice is Men's Exclusive, who has won 11 races and more than $1.4 million.

"He's going to keep on running as long as he keeps running good," trainer Wesley Ward said. Men's Exclusive must overcome the inside post (he will move from post 2 to post 1), and appears to have lost much of his tactical speed.

A similar dilemma faces Full Moon Madness, who has won 15 races and more than $1 million from 37 stars. Nevertheless, he regressed in his last two starts, finishing a distant third each time while earning below-par speed figures. Like 10-year-old Men's Exclusive, 8-year-old Full Moon Madness may be wearing down. Eventually, the page must be turned.

Trapper, a 3-year-old, enters the Sprint on a four-race win streak, having won 5 of 7 since trainer William Morey claimed him for $32,000 from his debut. "I went out on a limb. I thought he was a good horse based on his works," Morey said. He admits "putting up 32 on a first-timer, you might get a maiden-8." In the case of Trapper, you might get a stakes horse.

The 3-year-old son of Iron Cat steadily improved for Morey and owner Joe Morey (no relation), and the colt gave the 29-year-old trainer his first stakes win Oct. 4 at Bay Meadows when he won a $100,000 race while defeating Green Team and Men's Exclusive. "He's just really sharp, and now we have to take the next step," Morey said, adding that Trapper "might benefit from a little pace."

He will not get it. The Sprint came up without serious speed, a scenario that favors Highly Tempting and Summer Service. Both horses were claimed during the spring-summer meet at Hollywood Park. Highly Tempting has won three straight, and two since being claimed for $32,000 by trainer Doug O'Neill.

"He's just really moved forward over the last few races, he was internally nervous, and he's calmed down with good, long gallops," O'Neill said. Highly Tempting, a son of High Brite, earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 105 in his last start at Del Mar. A similar effort Saturday probably would be fast enough.

He will have to get past the Spawr-trained Summer Service, claimed for $62,500 in June. "I love that horse, just the way he's doing," Spawr said. "And there's no speed." Summer Service, whose three-furlong workout Wednesday morning was not recorded, is tricky to ride.

As long as he is running into the bit, he will produce 100 percent effort, but, Spawr said, "You can't ride him, you have to sit against him." Summer Service loses his action and flounders when the reins are shaken. Summer Service, by Siberian Summer, has won 5 of 12. Six furlongs is a reach while the distance is perfect for Highly Tempting.