07/31/2002 11:00PM

A healthy Hoover regains good form

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SANTA ROSA, Calif. - Few realize how hard trainer Brian Koriner had to work as he guided Hoovergetthekeys to victories in the Golden Gate and El Camino Real derbies last year.

The hard work has never stopped and may be paying off as Koriner prepares Hoovergetthekeys for Saturday's $100,000 Joseph T. Grace Handicap at the Sonoma County Fair.

Hoover getthekeys scored his first stakes victory as a 4-year-old in his last start in the Alamedan Handicap on July 7 at Pleasanton, rallying through the stretch and holding off late-finishing Takin It Deep by a nose.

"He dug in that day. That other horse never went by him as they were loping out past the line," Koriner said. "We'll see if he runs two alike."

Indications are that he can when he meets eight rivals in Saturday's 1 1/16-mile race.

Jockey Ron Warren, Hoovergetthekeys's regular rider as he blossomed early in 2001, was aboard Takin It Deep in the Alamedan.

"His races in the El Camino and Golden Gate were so great, but for about four or five races he hadn't run to his potential," Warren said. "You know he's capable. Brian's done a good job getting him back."

Koriner believes there is one explanation for Hoovergetthekeys's victory at Pleasanton.

"I think we've got him healthy," he said.

Hoovergetthekeys has been plagued by quarter cracks throughout a career that has seen him win 5 of 20 starts and earn $352,120 since he was claimed from a maiden race for $32,000.

"He's got a bar shoe, and he'll run with it," Koriner said. "Some horses won't because you don't really get traction with them."

There have been other problems for Koriner to combat.

"He bled through his Lasix in a couple of races, but I think we've got that taken care of," Koriner said. "We've got his diet right, and he seems to be thriving."

Jockey Adalberto Lopez has ridden Hoovergetthekeys in his past two starts and has been working him.

"He made a nice move, than flattened out," Lopez said of a May 24 allowance race at Bay Meadows.

"He loomed up around the turn but bled a little bit and probably was a little short," Koriner said.

"After watching the replay of that race at Bay Meadows, I knew I had to wait a bit," Lopez said. "I may have let him run too soon.

"At Pleasanton, at the three-eighths pole, he was moving, but they opened two on me. I just waited and waited until the top of the stretch. Maybe that was the key."

Since that race, Lopez has noticed a difference.

"This guy really feels more happy now. He really wants to do it when we go to the track," he said. "I don't know if he knows he did something good, but he's changed his attitude since he won."