04/21/2004 11:00PM

Gold Rush offers clash of Cal-breds

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INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Some of the horses are working-class veterans. Others are lightly raced and brimming with potential. Combined, the California-breds number more than 100 entrants Saturday at Hollywood Park, where the $1.3 million California Gold Rush offers a throwback to the good old days.

Large fields and competitive races typify the 10-race Gold Rush card, which includes six stakes worth $150,000 or more. The program, in its fifth year, is modeled after the hugely successful California Cup each fall at Santa Anita, and has become a spring-season hit with horsemen and bettors.

"It gives a lot of blue-collar, hard-knocking horses a chance to run for big money," said trainer Doug O'Neill.

The Gold Rush is highlighted by the $250,000 Snow Chief Stakes, a 1 1/8-mile race that gives improving 3-year-olds a chance to show they can handle statebred stakes company before venturing into open company.

Trainer David Bernstein and owner-breeder Irv Bergstein are confident that lightly raced has improved. If they are right, and Cee Mister B moves forward from the 86 Beyer Figure he earned winning an allowance last out, the colt by Cee's Tizzy should jump up and win the Snow Chief in his fourth career start. The Snow Chief goes as race 9, and Cee Mister B will not be handed the race.

His main rivals include , the high-figure colt who is dropping from the Grade 2 San Felipe; He's the Rage, a stakes winner whose comeback was a second-place finish to Cee Mister B; and O.K. Mikie, who flirted briefly with the Kentucky Derby trail. He ran fourth in the Grade 2 Illinois Derby in his last start.

The racing Saturday is attractive, from the perspective of purses and wagering, and includes a $1 million guaranteed pick-six pool on races 5-10. In the first race on the card, the $150,000 Fran's Valentine, the state's three best turf distaffers - , General Challenge's talented full sister.

In race 4, the $150,000 B. Thoughtful at seven furlongs for fillies and mares, graded-stakes winner in a speed-filled race that sets up for a closer. In race 6, the $150,000 Tiznow Stakes at 7 1/2 furlongs around one turn, the O'Neill-trained Excessivepleasure returns from Dubai as a vulnerable contender against Beau Soleil and Green Team.

Race 8 is the $150,000 TVG Khaled Stakes at 1 1/8 miles on turf, featuring the durable veteran . Now 8, Continental Red has raced 59 times over a total distance of 578.5 furlongs (72.3 miles), winning seven races and more than $1 million.

The Gold Rush card also includes two maiden stakes (races 2 and 5) and two allowance stakes (races 7 and 10). But the day's richest prize will go to the winner of the $250,000 Snow Chief, a race that may provide a transition to open stakes for Cee Mister B.

"We don't even know if he's good enough; he hasn't proven anything," said Bergstein, the owner-breeder. "We haven't seen the best of this colt."

Cee Mister B was produced by the only broodmare Bergstein has owned - the unraced Clearlyalady. Based on advice from pedigree expert Jack Werk, Bergstein bred her to Cee's Tizzy. The result was Cee Mister B (Bergstein's friends refer to him as "Mister B").

Cee Mister B bucked shins before he started, and his debut was delayed. No problem.

"I never was Derby-crazy with this colt," Bergstein said. "We pinfired him, and he had six or seven weeks where he did nothing but grow and get more mature." Kent Desormeaux worked the colt before his Jan. 10 debut and told Bergstein, "You've got a special horse."

So far, the jockey's words have been prophetic. Cee Mister B finished a troubled fourth in his debut, then stretched out to two turns Feb. 12 and handled a good maiden group by three lengths. The three horses that finished directly behind Cee Mister B all won their next starts. Parimutuel expectations were high when the colt returned against allowance foes on March 5, and bettors hammered Cee Mister B to 7-10. But behind the scenes, there was concern.

Cee Mister B's training had been interrupted by rain, and the night before the allowance, trainer Bernstein and owner Bergstein considered scratching.

"I'd missed quite a bit of time, the track had been so hard, and he had a foot problem," Bernstein said.

However, Cee Mister B needed another start to prepare for the Snow Chief. Although dead short, he ran, and overcame his lack of fitness to win by three-quarters of a length.

In the seven weeks since, Cee Mister B has trained phenomenally at Hollywood Park. On Saturday, bettors are on the same page with the colt's connections. Handicappers expect significant improvement, and Bergstein said, "We expect the same thing; I wouldn't trade places with anybody."

Cee Mister B will concede the early lead to stakes-winning sprinter Don'tsellmeshort, the likely pacesetter, and He's the Rage, who should get a good trip racing just behind Don'tsellmeshort. It will be up to Cee Mister B to catch both horses by rallying from behind.

Cheiron, a talented colt, is probably most effective as a late-running sprinter. Win or lose, his odds will be underlaid. In addition to O.K. Mikie, the field of eight includes longshots Score High, Lava Man, and Southern Outlaw.