11/29/2002 12:00AM

Jimmy Z ends long drought

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ALBANY, Calif. - Jimmy Z ($18.60), winless in 16 starts since a victory at Del Mar on Sept. 3, 2000, caught Ninebanks at the wire to win the $100,000 Forty Niner Handicap by a head at Golden Gate Fields.

Jimmy Z was last early as Metatron and Poker Brad set the pace in the 1 1/16-mile race.

"They told me 'Don't send him,' so I tried to save a little ground," winning jockey Frank Alvarado said. "He relaxed nicely, but I didn't think he'd fall that far back. Down the backstretch, I felt he had to do more so I asked a little bit and he started to pick it up."

Alvarado ran into traffic problems behind tiring horses turning into the lane.

"I took him out, and he really started running," he said.

Ninebanks took over the lead from favored Mercenary near the sixteenth pole after Mercenary headed tiring Metatron in the lane. He was unable, however, to hold off Jimmy Z, who was timed in 1:40.67.

Jimmy Z, who ran third in the 2001 Strub Stakes, earned $55,000 while recording his third career victory from 26 starts. His career earnings are $296,460.