12/30/2002 1:00AM

Hollendorfer sends out a foursome


ALBANY, Calif. - Wednesday's $75,000 Lafayette Handicap at Golden Gate Fields is an interesting and competitive race that should start the New Year on a promising note.

The nine-horse field contains a pair of entries: a two-horse coupling of Epic Honor and San Nicolas and a four-horse entry of last year's Lafayette winner I'madrifter, Chinkapin, Surprized, and Halo Cat. Because of the entries, there will be only five betting interests.

Trainer Jerry Hollendorfer, who will saddle Chinkapin, Surprized, and Halo Cat, has a fourth entrant in the race, Metatron, who runs uncoupled. I'madrifter, trained by Steve Specht, is part of the entry because his owner, Dan O'Neill, is also a part owner of Surprized.

The one-mile race for older horses turned into a romp for I'madrifter last year. He went wire to wire on a sloppy track for his only win of 2002.

I'madrifter will try to do the same this year from post 2, which should help him. But he will face more speed in this field from Metatron and Halo Cat. Metatron drew post 7 and Halo Cat post 8 on a track that has been favoring the inside since racing resumed after a brief Christmas break.

Hollendorfer is unconcerned about the draw.

"You can't count on the draw because things change," he said. "You may not want to be on the rail by Wednesday."

Chinkapin was claimed by Hollendorfer on Aug. 22 at Arlington Park for $50,000. He has been a bargain, with a pair of stakes wins and a first and second in his two other starts. Because of his stalking style, he may be the one to beat in this speed-laden field.

"Horses go up and down a lot, but he's run consistently for us," Hollendorfer said.

Metatron was part of a hot pace in the Nov. 29 Forty Niner Handicap before fading. He loses the services of leading rider Russell Baze, who has opted to ride Chinkapin.

"I don't think Russell wanted to ride him back," Hollendorfer said, "but Ron Warren might fit him better and take him back just a bit."

Halo Cat earned a 110 Beyer with a sprint stakes victory over the summer at Louisiana Downs. He has run well twice in two sprints here, winning the Albany Handicap and finishing second in the Oakland Handicap. He trailed I'madrifter early in both starts but did pass him.

Not to be overlooked in the race is Jimmy Z, who won of the Forty Niner when he rallied from well off the pace to score his first victory in 16 starts stretching back more than two years.

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