01/01/2002 1:00AM

I'madrifter wins Lafayette Handicap


ALBANY, Calif. - Trainer Steve Specht won his New Year's Day gamble at Golden Gate Fields when I'madrifter won the $100,000 Lafayette Handicap.

The one-mile race was originally scheduled to be run on the turf course, but Specht entered the 4-year-old colt in hopes the race would be shifted to the main track because of heavy rains that have inundated Northern California the past week. The race was shifted to a sloppy main track, and I'madrifter ($6.20) was the favorite.

I'madrifter broke sharply and went right to the lead under jockey Roberto Gonzalez. He was able to clear the field and was never challenged while setting brisk early fractions of 22.69 and 45.75. Poker Brad, who finished second, made a mild bid into the lane, but I'madrifter was never seriously challenged, winning the race by one and one-half lengths in 1:35.89.

"When he got around the first turn pretty comfortable, I thought he had a chance," Specht said. "I was a little concerned because it had been a couple months since he ran and this kind of track tends to get tiring."

I'madrifter, who won the Gold Rush Stakes over the track in the mud as a 2-year-old, missed seven and one-half months with a hairline fracture in the left front cannon bone, but Specht said after undergoing "shock therapy" at UC-Davis, the colt came back as good as ever.

The only disappointing aspect of the race for Specht was that the colt's owner, Daniel O'Neill, an avid fan of racing, was vacationing in Ireland and missed his first $100,000 stakes victory.