12/04/2001 1:00AM

Great Quest needs best behavior


ALBANY, Calif. - Trainer Jeff Bonde and jockey Roberto Gonzalez cannot explain what happened the last time Great Quest ran at Golden Gate Fields, but they are confident he will do better in Thursday's $32,000 starter allowance feature.

After finishing last in his debut, Great Quest won his second start, a $20,000 maiden claimer. He won by six lengths going wire to wire, and Bonde moved him up to a $32,000 starter allowance race for his next start Nov. 9 at Golden Gate Fields.

Great Quest was dominating that field just as he had done in his maiden score, but nearing the wire he ducked in, hit the rail, and threw Gonzalez, who broke several ribs.

"He had never done anything wrong before," said Gonzalez, who had been aboard for most of the colt's works.

"He's a very gentle horse," Bonde said. "That was the last thing we expected. Horses sometimes flick their ears when they're about to do something, but he gave no indications. We're not sure what caused it, if it was a reflection off the glass in the paddock or what."

Adding to the disappointment, owners Allan Creel and Tom Lesher had flown in from Las Vegas to watch the race.

Neither Bonde nor Gonzalez gave up on Great Quest, but instead tried to solve the mystery of why he ducked into the rail.

"The only thing you want to do is make sure they don't hesitate in the lane, so we worked him and put a bigger shadow roll on him," Bonde said.

"I worked him behind another horse so he got dirt in his face, but that didn't bother him," Gonzalez said.

Gonzalez said at the time of the incident he knew he had the race won and wasn't urging Great Quest because "you don't want to overuse a horse, so I put away my whip." He said he will stay busier on the colt down the lane from now on.

A field of seven is scheduled to go in the race, including Capt. McDonough, who is trained by A.L. Diaz.

Diaz suffered a stroke earlier this fall. Diaz is recovering well, said his brother, Adalberto Lopez, who will ride Capt. McDonough.

"He's coming to the barn every other day and still doing therapy," Adalberto Lopez said. "Last Friday, he was walking without a cane, and he's gotten a lot more movement in his [left] arm."

Stallion auction benefits academy

Steward Pam Berg has seasons available to more than 60 stallions at her annual stallion auction to benefit her Glen Ellen Vocational Academy. Among the stallions available is recently retired millionaire Dixie Dot Com, who will be standing at Cardiff Stud Farm.

Berg single-handedly cares for 25 injured and retired Thoroughbreds and finds homes for them.

The stallion auction, which runs Dec. 1-15, is the primary fundraiser for GEVA. For information, go to www.glenellenfarms.com/geva on the internet.

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