11/05/2003 1:00AM

Hot Market in another crack at Cup

Hot Market, fifth in last year's California Cup Classic, hasn't raced since January. He will again start in the Classic on Saturday, when there is a good possibility of rain.

ARCADIA, Calif. - The memory of Hot Market's unlucky performance in the 2002 California Cup Classic has stayed with trainer Craig Lewis for a year.

Hot Market was the 5-2 second choice in the $250,000 race for statebreds, but lost all chance when he reared as the gates opened. Instead of taking his customary position near the front, Hot Market rallied from the back to finish a well-beaten fifth.

"That was devastating," Lewis said.

Lewis and owners Harris Farm and Per Antonsen are looking toward Saturday's 14th running of the California Cup Classic for redemption with Hot Market.

The Classic is the top race on the 10-race program that features seven other stakes and two starter handicaps for claimers. The California Cup program begins at noon Pacific time and features a guaranteed pick six pool of $1 million. The pick six covers the fifth through 10th races.

Four of the races are scheduled for turf, but there is a threat of rain from Friday through Sunday, according to Steve Wood, the track superintendent. "It looks like a 60 or 70 percent chance of rain," he said.

Inclement weather could force a surface switch for the $150,000 Distaff, which is scheduled for about 6 1/2 furlongs on the hillside turf course, as well as the $100,000 Distance Handicap for fillies and mares over 1 1/4 miles on turf. Both would be run on the main track at the same distances, if necessary.

The Mile and the Starter Handicap over 1 1/2 miles are likely to be run on turf "unless it rains cats and dogs," said Mike Harlow, the track's racing secretary.

The program has drawn 99 entrants. The largest fields are 14 for the Distaff and Juvenile Fillies and 12 entrants for the Distance Handicap and Mile. There are only seven entrants in the Starter Sprint Handicap.

The Classic drew 10 entrants, including defending champion Calkins Road and 2000 winner Sky Jack, the 123-pound topweight and expected favorite. The other entrants are Commander's Flag, Grey Memo, Hot Market, Kedington, Mr. Joe C, Red Warrior, Tizawinner, and Tizbud.

Sky Jack won the Longacres Mile at Emerald Downs in August, his most recent start.

Sky Jack is trained by Doug O'Neill, who has 13 starters on the program, including three in the Distaff and Mile and two in the Juvenile and Matron.

Hot Market has not started since finishing third in the Grade 2 San Pasqual Handicap in January. He was found to have suffered a knee injury shortly after that race, the second major injury of his career. Hot Market missed most of his 3-year-old campaign in 2001 because of a sesamoid injury.

"He's very resilient and very tough," Lewis said.

Hot Market will be making his third start in the California Cup, having finished 10th in the 2000 Juvenile when he was still a maiden.

In the buildup to Saturday's California Cup, Lewis considered starting Hot Market in the $150,000 Sprint, but opted for the Classic because of the way the 5-year-old was training in recent weeks.

"The Sprint was my first inclination," Lewis said. "He trained well, and we were able to get a lot more air than we thought we could."

Lewis said the Cal Cup Classic is only the first start of a comeback he hopes will include a start in the Sunshine Millions Classic at Santa Anita in late January.

"The main objective is the Sunshine Millions," Lewis said.

A winner of 6 of 17 starts and $348,460, Hot Market carries 120 pounds in the Classic, the same assignment as Grey Memo, who was a troubled fourth in the 2002 Classic after being stuck in traffic.

The 120-pound assignment is the same weight that Hot Market carried last year.

"I was a little surprised by the weights," Lewis said. "I'm flattered they think that much of the horse."