10/03/2004 11:00PM

Lopez finds no place like home

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SAN MATEO, Calif. - Jockey Adalberto Lopez is happy to be back home after breaking his usual routine this summer.

Lopez, a mainstay on the northern California circuit, ventured north to Seattle to ride at Emerald Downs last spring and spent the summer there instead of riding the fair circuit here.

He finished fourth in the jockey standings there with 70 victories from 489 mounts, adding 78 seconds and 70 thirds. His mounts earned $752,855.

"I wanted to do something different," he said. "The bad part is that I was away from my family, but I would come home or they would come up and see me.

"Sometimes you just need to do something different. It helps you."

Lopez, 39, a brother of local trainer A.L. Diaz, scored his first win in 1981 at Hipodromo de las Americas in Mexico City and was the leading rider there the next year.

He moved to the United States in 1983 and was the leading rider at Balmoral in 1984 and 1985.

He arrived in the Bay Area in 1994 and has lived here since 1995. In 1995, he rode Screaming Don ($103), the highest-priced winner in California Derby history.

Lopez made solid connections with the trainers in Washington, which will translate into some live mounts down here as well.

One of those live mounts is the Bud Klokstad-trained Swingn' Notes, who won two stakes under Lopez at Emerald and has been nominated to Saturday's $55,000-added Palo Alto Handicap at 1 1/16 miles on the turf.

"I had a good meet and rode several stakes winners," Lopez said. "I hope the Washington trainers will use me a lot down here."

Covered early, flying late

There were no true front-runners in last Saturday's Grade 3, $112,500 Bay Meadows Breeders' Cup Handicap, although Night Patrol took the lead as expected. He set honest fractions with Murano lapped on him, and held the lead into the lane, but the cavalry charge lined up behind him made it apparent he would be hard-pressed to win. In fact, both leaders did fade badly in the lane.

Needwood Blade, who had never competed at the 1 1/8-mile distance, wasn't bothered at all by the distance, defeating Seinne by a length for the victory. He was sixth, in front of only Seinne most of the way.

"They had one specific instruction for me: keep him covered up," winning rider Dennis Carr said. "I had him covered up all right, but then I was praying for a place to run in the stretch."

Seinne closed strongly from the outside after a five-wide move on the turn.

"They told me to make one run," Seinne's rider, Frank Alvarado, said. "Coming into the stretch, there was no way I could risk going inside and getting him stopped. We made our run and didn't get in any trouble, but it wasn't quite good enough."

Palo Alto, Courtship this weekend

Seventeen 3-year-old fillies were nominated to Saturday's Palo Alto, including Penny's Fortune, Dawn's Angel, and Go Ask Daisy, the top three finishers in the Carmel Handicap. Ay Dee Dee, Dyna Wild, Indefensible, Midwife, and Rather Have Rubies are all coming off victories.

Only seven 2-year-old fillies were nominated to Sunday's $55,00-added Courtship Stakes at six furlongs. Crisane, Crowning Camilla, and Fairy Tale Dream are coming off a victory.

Please Lord faces winners

Please Lord, a strong second against winners in her debut before finishing second at 1-5, lived up to her advance billing when she scored a wire-to-wire victory here in her Sept. 17 comeback. She returns Wednesday when she meets six rivals in a six-furlong allowance race.

She and My Charmian, who breaks from just inside her, are the only 3-year-olds in the race. They will be the early speed, and the outside draw should benefit Please Lord in her early battle with Summer Sails, who breaks from the rail.