10/22/2003 12:00AM

He won't be 9-1 again


ARCADIA, Calif. - Special Matter, a former $12,500 claimer, pulled a 9-1 upset when he won the Grade 3 Carleton Burke Handicap last fall at Santa Anita.

When he attempts to defend his title on Friday in the $125,000 race at 1 1/2 miles on turf, bettors and rival horsemen will not ignore him.

Since his first stakes win in the 2002 Burke, Special Matter has one victory in eight starts and has placed in two graded stakes. Following a three-month break during the late spring and summer, Special Matter showed a renewed zest for racing with a third in an optional claimer at Del Mar and a victory in a similar race at 1 1/4 miles on turf at Santa Anita on Oct. 8.

The latter race gave trainer Rafael Becerra the confidence to attempt Friday's stakes. "The race at Del Mar put him back on his game," he said.

Becerra shoulders the blame for Special Matter's early spring disappointment. After finishing second in the San Luis Obispo and San Luis Rey handicaps, Special Matter was well beaten in the San Juan Capistrano Handicap and an optional claimer.

"I ran him too many times," Becerra said.

Owned by Ray and Janice McClintock and Nancy Eider, Special Matter has earned $168,700 this year.

"He loves to run," Becerra said. "He's a fun horse to have around."

The Burke has drawn a solid field, including Continental Red, the 2002 California-bred horse of the year, and European invaders Labirinto and Researched.

Continental Red won the Quicken Tree Stakes for California-breds at 1 1/2 miles on turf at Hollywood Park on June 15, but is winless in his last three starts. The span includes a game second to Breeders' Cup Mile hopeful Irish Warrior in the Grade 2 Del Mar Handicap on Aug. 31.

Most recently, Continental Red was sixth in the Grade 3 Kentucky Cup Turf Handicap at Kentucky Downs on Sept. 20.

Labirinto has had an unusual itinerary this year, winning stakes in France, Spain, and Sweden. He excels at 1 1/2 miles.

Researched was recently acquired by Gary Tanaka. Trained by Michael Stoute, Researched is best at 1 1/2 miles. He was a stakes winner at 1 1/2 miles at Goodwood in August and second to Compton Bolter in the Dubai Duty Free Arc Trial at Newbury on Sept. 20.

At Royal Ascot in June, Researched was second in the Duke of Edinburgh Stakes at 1 1/2 miles, failing by a neck in a field of 20.