09/26/2006 11:00PM

Hot battle on deck for 2-year-olds

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ALBANY, Calif. - Although it is not a stakes race, Friday's Golden Gate Fields feature is the best 2-year-old race of the year in northern California.

Entered in the first-level allowance race are a pair of debut winners, Vicarino, who was very impressive at Santa Rosa, and Baltimore Drive, who graduated at Saratoga against New York-breds.

And the best part from both a fan's and handicapper's standpoint is maybe neither will win.

That's because Pacific Heat, a runner-up in his debut, came back to score here after a two-month break, earning the highest Beyer Speed Figure of any of the seven runners in the race.

Vicarino won his debut by 5 3/4 lengths on Aug. 5 and has been waiting for a chance to run since then. Both an allowance race and a stakes that he entered here this meet failed to fill.

He seems more than ready with a 58.80-second work from the gate and bullet 58.20 in his past two five-furlong works.

Pacific Heat has one work since his Sept. 4 victory, a nice 59.80 work.

Baltimore Drive is the a new addition to the equation. He was expected to run last Sunday in the $100,000 Bongard at Belmont, but trainer Christopher Paasch was unable to get a flight to New York for him.

A son of Silver Charm, Baltimore Drive has taken after his sire, said Paasch, in that he isn't much of a work horse but comes alive in the afternoon. He was a $150,000 Ocala purchase in February, one month before Vicarino went for the same price.

"I liked the way he moved, but after watching him work, I went to scratch him off the page," Paasch said of Baltimore Drive. "I looked at my watch and thought there was no way he went that fast for as easy as he did everything."

Paasch watched him again and decided to buy him.

He led wire to wire in his debut, but, Paasch said, "I don't see him as a speed horse. That day he burst out of the gate. He outbroke everyone, and he was on the rail, so I had already told the rider to go a little to maintain his position."