01/15/2003 1:00AM

Labamta Babe rebounding

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ARCADIA, Calif. - Labamta Babe took a couple of steps back, and now he is taking big strides forward. After winning the Santa Catalina Stakes one year ago, he was injured and needed time off until midsummer. Labamta Babe put in a poor effort in the King's Bishop Stakes, but the emergence of another Ed Gann-owned colt, Medaglia d'Oro, afforded trainer Bobby Frankel the luxury of running Labamta Babe in softer spots to build the colt's confidence.

That trend will continue on Friday, when Labamta Babe goes for his second consecutive victory at Santa Anita in a third-level allowance race. He meets four rivals, all of whom have questions regarding current form.

Labamta Babe, however, appears to be back on an upswing. He comes off a victory against second-level allowance horses on Jan. 4, which gave him two wins in as many starts at Santa Anita. He goes for the hat trick in Friday's second race.

"I thought he ran very well last time," Frankel said Wednesday. "I could have run him in the Strub, but I've got Medaglia for that race. If this race didn't go, I might have considered running him in the Strub, too. It's the same owner. I didn't want to run him there, because I don't think he can beat Medaglia."

He should, however, be favored on Friday.

Labamta Babe's main rival might prove to be Oh Take, who disappointed on the turf in his North American debut on Dec. 19 at Hollywood Park, but figures to improve with a switch back to the main track. Oh Take, who is trained by Ron McAnally, was a Group 1 winner on dirt in his native Argentina. He worked a swift half-mile on Wednesday in 46 seconds, the best time of 38 at the distance.

Bonus Pay Day, the only horse in the race entered for the optional-claiming price of $100,000, was scratched from an optional-claiming race on the grass, on Wednesday in order to run Friday.

Truly a Judge has been freshened since Santa Anita's Oak Tree meeting, when he was third in a similar spot. Jentzen will be racing on dirt for the first time.

Also of interest on Friday's card is the seventh race, a one-mile grass race for second-level allowance fillies and mares, in which a promising young filly of Frankel's, Sea of Showers, goes for her second win in as many starts in this country.

Sea of Showers beat an entry-level allowance field with a powerful closing kick on Dec. 8. She is a daughter of Seattle Slew and is out of the mare Chimes of Freedom, making her a half-sister to stakes winners Aldebaran and Good Journey.

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