03/31/2003 1:00AM

Gondolieri gets back on the grass


ARCADIA, Calif. - When Gondolieri finished third in the Tokyo City Handicap on March 8, it was only the second loss of his eight-race career, and his first start on the main track.

Sunday, trainer Ron McAnally will give Chilean import Gondolieri a chance to score his first stakes win in the United States in a race suited to his strength - the $150,000 Arcadia Handicap over 1 1/8 miles on turf.

"He's run his best races on turf," McAnally said.

The Arcadia is one of four stakes on a weekend led by Saturday's $750,000 Santa Anita Derby. Saturday's program also includes the $150,000 San Bernardino Handicap over 1 1/8 miles on dirt and the $100,000 Las Cienegas Handicap, a sprint on the hillside turf course for fillies and mares.

Gondolieri races for Nelson Bunker Hunt. Before arriving in California last fall, Gondolieri won 6 of 7 starts in Chile, including the Chilean 2000 Guineas last September. All seven of his South American races came on turf, ranging in distance from about six furlongs to about a mile.

McAnally nominated the 4-year-old Gondolieri to the San Bernardino Handicap but already has Piensa Sonando scheduled for that race.

McAnally said he wasn't discouraged by Gondolieri's one-length loss in the Tokyo City, run over 1 1/16 miles.

"He was headed all the way," McAnally recalled. "A horse challenged him for the first half in 45 seconds, another horse came along and he didn't have enough at the end."

The Arcadia Handicap will draw a solid field. The probables include Ballingarry, Blue Steller, Century City, Decarchy, Mananan McLir, Passinetti, and Sunday Break.

Ballingarry is making his 4-year-old debut and first start in California for trainer Laura de Seroux. Last fall, Ballingarry won the Canadian International for trainer Aidan O'Brien and finished seventh in the Breeders' Cup Turf at Arlington Park, his debut for de Seroux.

While Ballingarry often races close to the pace, he is likely to be chasing Gondolieri in the early stages of the Arcadia Handicap. McAnally said Gondolieri is best when allowed to set his own pace.

"I've seen all his tapes from Chile," McAnally said. "Even though in most of his races in Chile he was on the lead, he got to the lead naturally."

Pleasantly Perfect needs a confidence boost

The San Bernardino features two also-rans from the $1 million Santa Anita Handicap - Pleasantly Perfect and Piensa Sonando, who were fourth and fifth.

Pleasantly Perfect is winless in two starts at this meeting, including a third in the San Antonio Handicap behind Congaree. Last October, he won the Goodwood Breeders' Cup Handicap, but bled in the race and missed the Breeders' Cup Classic.

The 5-year-old Pleasantly Perfect was considered a candidate for the $6 million Dubai World Cup but did not run well enough earlier in the year to justify a trip, trainer Richard Mandella said.

"I don't think he's back to the form of last October," he said. "That's why we're staying here and trying to build up his confidence. He's not a real experienced horse."

Kela and Truly a Judge, the first two finishers in the Tokyo City Handicap, are candidates for the San Bernardino. Total Impact, the winner of allowance race on March 22, and Western Pride, who was entered and scratched from three stakes in March, are also expected to start.

The Las Cienegas field is expected to include Repository and Paga, the first- and third-place finishers of the Winter Solstice Stakes on March 12.

Kona Gold will take a break

Kona Gold, the champion 2000 sprinter, will be turned out for three weeks following his third-place finish in Saturday's Potrero Grande Breeders' Cup Handicap, trainer Bruce Headley said.

The 9-year-old Kona Gold was the favorite and 121-pound highweight in the Potrero Grande, and finished 2 1/2 lengths behind the winner, Bluesthestandard. The Potrero Grande was Kona Gold's third start at the meeting, following a victory in the El Conejo Handicap on Jan. 1 and a sixth-place finish in the Palos Verdes Handicap Jan. 26.

Kona Gold will be turned out at Headley's home near Santa Anita.

"I'll take his shoes off for three weeks and put him in a clover pasture," he said. "Maybe he needs a little sunshine. I thought he ran a good race. He still competes. Hopefully, relaxation and sunshine will prolong him a little bit. He's still sound of limb."

Kona Gold has won 14 of 29 starts and $2,289,384. Headley intends to have Kona Gold ready for the $200,000 Bing Crosby Breeders' Cup Handicap at Del Mar on July 26.

'Buffy' will await Railbird

Buffythecenterfold, a three-time stakes winner, is unlikely to start in the Kentucky Oaks at Churchill Downs on May 2, trainer Mel Stute said over the weekend.

The winner of the Santa Paula Stakes at 6 1/2 furlongs on March 23, Buffythecenterfold is being pointed for the $100,000 Railbird Stakes over seven furlongs at Hollywood Park on May 4.

"I'll have her fit for anything we want to do," he said. "I think the Railbird will be her next race. I have her nominated for the Kentucky Oaks, but it's doubtful."

Sunday, Buffythecenterfold worked five furlongs in 59 seconds, which equaled the second-fastest work at the distance. "I have her on edge," Stute said.

Berrio cleared to resume riding

Jockey Omar Berrio, who has not ridden since being injured in a spill on Feb. 20, has received doctor's clearance to resume riding, according to his agent, Rene San Miguel.

Berrio, 34, did not suffer any major injuries in the February spill, but experienced prolonged soreness, San Miguel said.

"He didn't break anything or fracture anything, he was just very sore," San Miguel said. "He's happy to be back."

Berrio has won six races from 54 mounts at this meeting. He was booked to ride the $100,000 Berkeley Handicap at Golden Gate Fields on Saturday but his mount, Western Pride, was scratched.

Berrio is scheduled to ride Flirt With Fortune in the $750,000 Santa Anita Derby on Saturday, which would be his first mount in the race since he finished seventh on Proud Memories in 1992. Flirt With Fortune finished ninth at 36-1 in the San Felipe Stakes on March 16.

Injured Sorenson targets June return

Jockey Danny Sorenson is hoping to return to riding in June after suffering a neck injury in a one-horse spill last Thursday.

Sorenson said he has a fracture on the third cervical vertebra and will wear a neck brace for four weeks. An examination by doctors in late April will determine how quickly he can return.

Sorenson, 45, has one winner from 74 mounts at this meeting.

* Jockey Mike Smith is appealing a three-day suspension for failing to maintain a straight course in the stretch of Saturday's second race, according to his agent, Bob Meldahl. Smith's mount, Ulloa, was disqualified from first to third in the six-furlong race for maiden claimers. The suspension was scheduled to run from Thursday through Saturday. Smith is booked to ride Azeri, the 2002 Horse of the Year, in the Apple Blossom Handicap at Oaklawn Park this Saturday.

* The Tin Man, the winner of the $200,000 San Luis Obispo Handicap in February, has returned to training following an illness. Trained by Richard Mandella, The Tin Man had a three-furlong workout last Friday. Mandella is pointing The Tin Man to the $400,000 Jim Murray Handicap over 1 1/2 miles on turf at Hollywood Park on May 10.

* Services will be held Wednesday for James Pemberton, a horse owner for 45 years who died last Thursday after a brief illness. Pemberton had horses with James Jiminez, John Sadler, and Denny Sparks over the year. The services will be held at All Souls Mausoleum, 4400 Cherry Ave., Long Beach, at 11 a.m. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that a contribution be made to the Edwin J. Gregson Foundation, care of the California Thoroughbred Trainers, 285 W. Huntington Drive, Arcadia, Calif. 91007.