04/16/2003 11:00PM

Going long on the turf - real long

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ARCADIA, Calif. - The $400,000 San Juan Capistrano Handicap, to be run Sunday, was once the richest turf race of the Santa Anita winter-spring meeting.

This year, contenders Adminniestrator and Special Matter are taking a pay cut to run in the marathon turf race over about 1 3/4 miles.

On Jan. 25, Adminniestrator and Special Matter finished first and fourth in the $500,000 Sunshine Millions Turf for California-breds and Florida-breds. Since then, Special Matter has been second in the San Luis Obispo and San Luis Rey handicaps, while Adminniestrator was third in the San Luis Rey.

The two are two logical contenders in a San Juan Capistrano that is led by Champion Lodge, the winner of the San Luis Rey Handicap, who is the 117-pound highweight and likely favorite. Champion Lodge won the San Luis Rey over a yielding turf course on March 15, chasing Special Matter to the eighth pole and then pulling away to win by six lengths.

Rafael Becerra, who trains Special Matter, described the course that day as being "this deep" holding his hands about a foot apart.

Becerra was relieved when rain did not fall early Thursday as was forecast, increasing the chances of a firm turf course on Sunday.

"I'd like to get a firm turf course," Becerra said. "I don't want to get too high on him, but he's doing super."

Special Matter is proven over distances, having won the Grade 3 Carleton Burke Handicap over 1 1/2 miles on turf last October. On Feb. 15, Special Matter was beaten 9 1/2 lengths in the San Luis Obispo Handicap by The Tin Man, who would have been a standout in the San Juan Capistrano Handicap but has been derailed by illness.

In the Burke and San Luis Obispo, Special Matter raced behind the leaders, a style that Becerra prefers for him.

"As long as he can be behind horses, he'll be better," he said. "I want to have someone set the pace for us."

The pace is likely to come from the longshots All the Boys and Timber Cruiser, who will be making their stakes debuts.

A fast pace will help Adminniestrator, who comes from the back. Trained by Paddy Gallagher, Adminniestrator won the Quicken Tree Stakes for California-breds over 1 1/2 miles last April and then finished a close third in the California Cup Mile last November.

Adminniestrator was beaten seven lengths in the San Luis Rey Handicap, a race that left Gallagher perplexed. "I don't know if it was the soft turf, but he didn't have the turn of foot," he said.

There are nine entrants in the San Juan Capistrano, including Delta Form, the winner of the 2002 Del Mar Handicap, and Nazirali, the winner of the 2002 San Luis Obispo Handicap.

The Grade 1 San Juan Capistrano is the ninth race on a 10-race Sunday program that closes out the winter-spring meeting.

Streaking Kedington must step up

Becerra may not have any champions in his barn but he does train Kedington, who has won five times this meeting.

On Wednesday, Kedington won a $32,000 claiming race over a mile against fellow 4-year-olds. The victory was his first start for owner Kassie Van Doren and Becerra, who claimed him for $16,000 from trainer Doug O'Neill on April 3.

In Wednesday's race, Kedington was a slight favorite. Ridden by Tyler Baze he rallied from third to win by 1 1/2 lengths. "I didn't do much since we claimed him, just galloped him," Becerra said. "How much could I do in 12 days?"

Kedington raced only against 4-year-olds this meeting. After losing two starts in January, he was promoted from second to first when bumped in the stretch of a $16,000 claimer on Feb. 9. He followed with wins against $12,500 claimers on Feb. 28 and at the $20,000 level on March 1.

Becerra had his eye on Kedington all winter and spring but waited before making the claim.

"I was going to get him for $12,500, but I didn't," Becerra said. "When he went for $20,000, I said, 'I'll wait.' When he went in for $16,000, I said, 'I'll do it.' "

At the upcoming Hollywood Park meeting, Kedington is likely to have to try older horses, which could make it difficult to extend his winning streak. Becerra is not sure at what level Kedington will reappear, saying, "When we go against 4-year-olds and up, we'll find out what kind of horse we've got."

It's Stratus vs. Stratus on Sunday

Stratus has two chances to win Sunday's seventh race.

Two starters in an allowance race over 1 1/8 miles on turf have the same name - Stratus - which might lead to an interesting call from track announcer Trevor Denman.

From post 4, Stratus, a 4-year-old French-bred gelding, starts for Ron Charles and Clear Valley Stables. From post 5, a 5-year-old Argentine-bred named Stratus starts for EA Ranches.

Both were imported from their native countries late last year and are seeking their first win in this country.

The French-bred Stratus is winless in four starts for trainer Sandy Shulman, but was a close second in an allowance race on March 30. The Argentine-bred Stratus has not started since November, but was beaten only a length at Hollywood Park in his last start.

River God in Inglewood next

River God, whose career has been interrupted frequently by injury, won his second consecutive start in a $65,000 optional claimer over a mile on turf on Wednesday.

Trained by Richard Mandella, River God ($7.40) was timed in 1:36.07, finishing a nose in front of Duke of Green, the 6-5 favorite.

The 5-year-old River God has won 4 of 6 starts in a career that began in the fall of 2000. Mandella said the Inglewood Handicap at Hollywood Park on May 3 is a possibility for River God's next start.

"He's a good horse, but he's had some bad luck with injuries," Mandella said.

Fine was long time in coming

Trainer Paul Assinesi has been fined $3,000 after one of his starters in October 2001, Holdthehelm, tested positive for albuterol, a breathing medication banned in post-race tests.

Santa Anita stewards announced the penalty last weekend. Assinesi said he did not contest the decision and expressed surprise that it took 18 months for the issue to be resolved.

On Oct. 12, 2001, Holdthehelm finished third in the Pinjara Stakes, a restricted turf race for 2-year-olds.

- Jockey Mark Johnston scored his first win at Santa Anita in Thursday's second race aboard Six G's ($15.20). Johnston relocated here from Maryland in late March.