11/04/2001 12:00AM

Golden Apples best in Las Palmas

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ARCADIA, Calif. - Still a 3-year-old, Golden Apples showed on Sunday she can compete with California's top older fillies and mares on turf.

Closing from last in the field of nine, Golden Apples caught pacesetter Dancingonice in the final 50 yards to win the $250,000 Las Palmas Handicap at the Oak Tree at Santa Anita meeting.

Golden Apples was making her first start against older fillies and mares, having won the Grade 1 Del Mar Oaks and finished second in the Grade 1 Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup at Keeneland since arriving from Europe in late summer.

Trained by Ben Cecil for Gary Tanaka, Golden Apples was ridden by Garrett Gomez, who was sporting an eye-catching dyed-blonde haircut on Sunday.

Gomez was under instructions from Cecil to keep Golden Apples off the pace and had his mount 11 1-2 lengths behind Dancingonice at the end of the backstretch.

Dancingonice had led by as many as four lengths on the backstretch and turned for home with a slight advantage over La Ronge, Janet and Tout Charmant.

While Dancingonice was able to shake off that trio, Golden Apples, who carried 115 pounds, closed well with a wide rally to win by three-quarters of a length, finishing 1 1-8 miles on turf in 1:46.61.

"She setled very nicely and had that same kick that she showed at Del Mar," Cecil said. "She is a nice filly and she proved that in the Queen Elizabeth.

I think she'll be even better next year."

Dancingonice held second finishing 1 1-2 lengths in front of Janet, the 5-2 favorite who passed the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf at Belmont Park in late October in favor of the Las Palmas. Janet won the Grade 1 Yellow Ribbon Stakes at Santa Anita in late September.

Tout Charmant, the 121-pound topweight, finished fourth, followed by La Ronge, Blue Moon,Al Desima, Cindy's Hero and Catz.

Cecil said Golden Apples will start in the $500,000 Matriarch Stakes at Hollywood Park on Nov. 25.