04/17/2002 11:00PM

Golden Apples bruised but unbowed

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ARCADIA, Calif. - Golden Apples will have to overcome a bruised foot if she runs in Saturday's $250,000 Santa Barbara Handicap. Trainer Ben Cecil on Thursday was optimistic that Golden Apples, who has won three stakes in the last year, would start in the race, the meeting's championship for females on turf.

"I'm more encouraged than yesterday," Cecil said Thursday. "I won't run her unless she's 100 percent."

Cecil said that Golden Apples did not go to the track on Thursday, a day after she worked on turf.

Golden Apples defeated a star-studded field in the Grade 2 Santa Ana Handicap over 1 1/8 miles last month, leaving little doubt she is the top-ranked turf female in California. Golden Apples closed from ninth on the final turn to win the Santa Ana by 1 1/4 lengths. It was her first start of 2002.

Golden Apples had the same bruise - in her right front foot - going into the Santa Ana, Cecil said. "It was a lot worse then, " he said. "I think our chances are good to have her right [on Saturday]."

A decision whether to run her can be made as late as Saturday morning. If she starts, Golden Apples will be favored in the Grade 2 Santa Barbara, run over 1 1/4 miles on turf.

The Santa Barbara is the longest race in the nine-race career of Golden Apples. A 4-year-old, Golden Apples has won four times, all at between 1 1/8 and 1 3/16 miles. The longer distance does not concern Cecil.

"I think she could like it more because she's so relaxed early on," Cecil said.

The Santa Barbara drew only six entrants, and two of them - Astra and Blue Moon - are capable of defeating Golden Apples.

Astra won the 2001 Santa Barbara while she was trained by Simon Bray. Astra later won the Grade 1 Beverly Hills Handicap over 1 1/4 miles on turf. Turned over to trainer Laura de Seroux last August, Astra has made one start this year, finishing third behind Golden Apples in the Santa Ana.

Blue Moon has never run against Astra, but was well-beaten by Golden Apples in the Las Palmas Handicap last November. The 5-year-old Blue Moon was rested over the winter and returned with a hard-fought win in the Grade 2 Buena Vista Handicap on Feb. 18, overcoming trouble through the stretch.

Blue Moon has never run 1 1/4 miles, but was second in the Grade 1 Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup over 1 1/8 miles on turf at Keeneland in 2000.

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