04/06/2003 11:00PM

Locals gearing up for California Derby

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SAN MATEO, Calif. - Three local horses, Mr. Technique, Souvenir's Lad, and Winning Stripes, are being pointed for Saturday's $100,000 California Derby at Bay Meadows.

Mr. Technique and Souvenir's Lad are trained by Jeff Bonde and Winning Stripes is trained by William J. Morey Jr.

Tribe, from the Clifford Sise Jr. barn in Southern California, is the only other runner considered likely as of Monday for the 1 1/8-mile race for 3-year-olds.

Californian, trained by Kristin Mulhall, and Excessive Barb, trained by Craig Lewis, remain possibilities.

Bay Meadows officials would love to see Ministers Wild Cat enter the race. Ministers Wild Cat scratched from Saturday's Santa Anita Derby because of a bruised hind hoof. Trainer Neil Drysdale has nominated the colt to the California Derby, but has given no indication he will run. The California Derby is ungraded, and earnings in graded stakes are used to determine who can run in the Kentucky Derby if the race overfills. Ministers Wild Cat's only graded stakes earnings are from a second-place finish in the Grade 3 El Camino Real Derby.

Eye of the Tiger, who has won his only two starts in northern California and has run third twice in Southern California, will make his next start in the Grade 2, $325,000 Coolmore Lexington Stakes at Keeneland April 19, according to trainer Jerry Hollendorfer.

California Derby descent

The California Derby is no longer on the radar as far as Kentucky Derby preps go, and its purse has been cut in each of the past three years. It was a $250,000 race in 2000, dropped to $200,000 in 2001, $150,000 last year, and will be $100,000 this year.

In northern California, the El Camino Real Derby in early March, and even the Golden Gate Derby in January, have supplanted it as major preps.

From 1974-80, California Derby entrants ran third in the Kentucky Derby four times - Agitate (1974), Diabolo (1975), Golden Act (1979), and Jaklin Klugman (1980).

In 1994, Screaming Don pulled a $103.60 upset, and his connections said his next race would be the derby - the Colorado Derby.

In 1995, the race was switched to the turf and began to lose its luster. One year later, Hollendorfer supplemented the filly Pike Place Dancer, who won the race. He took her to Kentucky for her next start and she won the Kentucky Oaks.

Even though the California Derby is no longer a major Kentucky Derby prep, it's a race northern California horsemen want to win.

"Any time you win a derby, it's big," said Bonde, who saddled 1999 winner Red Sky's.

Only one locally stabled colt, Hajji's Treasure (1985), won the California Derby before Pike Place Dancer. Starting with her win in 1996, locally stabled 3-year-olds have won six straight runnings of the California Derby.

"To me, it was a big thrill," said Gil Matos, who saddled Takin it Deep in 2001. "It was something I looked forward to winning some day. When I won, it was $200,000. Even though the purse has dropped, it's still big."

Bill Delia had his best day as a trainer when he won the 1997 edition with I'm a Jewel.

He purchased I'm a Jewel, who had run second in an $8,000 maiden claiming race, for $6,000. He moved him to the turf and improved him, ultimately winning over $300,000 with him.

Thirty minutes after winning the California Derby, Delia also won the $50,000 Sonoma Handicap with Truce in Balance, who couldn't win for a $3,500 claiming tag at Grants Pass in Oregon but won over $300,000 as a multiple stakes winner with Delia.

"They were both Cinderella stories," Delia said. "That was my most exciting day as a trainer."

* Front-running Lacrystal Classic will seek her second straight win and Vamos Nina will try to snap a streak of three straight second-place finishes in Wednesday's Bay Meadows feature, a one-mile allowance race on the turf for older fillies and mares.