04/16/2003 11:00PM

Import will challenge speedster


SAN MATEO, Calif. - When jockey Roberto Gonzalez climbs aboard Presidio Heights in Saturday's six-furlong $60,000-added Atherton Handicap at Bay Meadows, he knows what to expect.

Presidio Heights will bolt from the gate, cut out fast fractions, and try to defeat five rivals wire to wire, much as he did in winning the six-furlong Danville Handicap on March 22 at Golden Gate Fields.

"That's the fastest I've ever been on a horse, and I've ridden a lot of fast horses," Gonzalez said after that race.

Of course, he had never gone a half-mile in 42.89 seconds before.

By going that fast, Presidio Heights opened a daylight lead on the fast El Dorado Shooter, and held on to win by a neck.

On Saturday, the Art Sherman-trained Presidio Heights should be able to get the early lead again.

The question is how fast will his fractions be?

"It feels really exciting when you're on a horse like that," Gonzalez said. "You have so much horse, you feel like you're going to win. Art has done a good job with him. I knew he had natural speed. I just have to rate him to finish."

He should have no problem clearing four of his rivals - late-running Radar Contact, Texas Chili, and the Jerry Hollendorfer-trained entry of Halo Cat and Chinkapin.

The question mark in the race is New Zealand-bred Matter of Honour, who will be making his U.S. debut for trainer Jeff Bonde after having been racing in Australia. He will also be making his first start on the dirt after winning 7 of 30 starts and earning $219,876.

"The same man who sent me Stuttgart sent him to me," Bonde said of Matter of Honour.

Stuttgart set a Northern American record for 4 1/2 furlongs on the turf in his last start.

Matter of Honour should generate local interest. His sire is Casual Lies, the 1992 Kentucky Derby runner-up, who was based in Pleasanton. Casual Lies stands in New Zealand, and Matter of Honour, a 7-year-old gelding, is the first of his offspring to run in northern California.

Matter of Honour has won 2 of 3 starts this year and has a pair of bullet drills for Bonde since his arrival here. He turned in a sharp 47.40-second half-mile on April 4 and came back on April 10 and recorded a 1:10.20 six-furlong drill.

"He showed a lot of gas in that six-furlong work," Bonde said. "He's very fast and appears to be a top-flight sprinter. He's acted like he's acclimated well here, so we're going to run. It will be a good test for him."

Presidio Heights will present the ultimate early test, and Halo Cat, who likes to stalk, should be a big test late for Matter of Honour.