02/08/2002 1:00AM

Loss aided Arsen


ALBANY, Calif. - Every trainer wants to win stakes races, and Len Shoemaker is no exception. He's hoping for a big run from Arsen in Sunday's $55,000-added Golden State Mile at Golden Gate Fields.

But a key to Arsen's chances in the one-mile prep for the El Camino Real Derby may be the fact he didn't win his stakes debut on Dec. 30 in the six-furlong Sutter Stakes at Golden Gate Fields.

"It might have been a blessing," Shoemaker said of the third-place finish. "In a way, it worked out best."

Had Arsen won the Sutter, Sunday's start would be his first around two turns. Because of the loss, he was eligible to make his debut at a mile against an easier field on Jan. 25 as he scored a two-length victory despite jumping tire tracks in the lane.

Shoemaker has always liked Arsen, a colt by Salt Lake out of the Silver Hawk mare She's Silver.

"The colt had worked really well," he said. "He was easy to rate in his works, and each time he finished well even when the distances increased. The more I worked him, the stronger he went."

Arsen won his debut on Nov. 24 over a muddy track.

"The only question in my mind was if he'd handle the track," Shoemaker said.

Shoemaker was a little shaken when he saw Arsen eighth in a field of nine and 10 lengths off the pace. Then Arsen began to run and his strong finish in a three-length victory pleasantly surprised Shoemaker.

In his second start in the Sutter, Arsen again lagged off the pace and made a strong finish, winding up third despite drifting out.

In the mile race, jockey B en Russell placed Arsen second early as Drawn Sword opened a 10-length lead after the opening half mile.

"I was a little surprised when he was second, but I'd told Ben to let him settle where he wants," Shoemaker said. "I told him not to rush the colt, and he didn't."

Sunday's race has drawn nine entrants, including Cappuchino, who was second by a nose to Danthebluegrassman in the Golden Gate Derby, and Steady Rollin, who won the Sutter Stakes.

"This is a big step, but it's an obvious step," said Shoemaker, who has nominated the colt to the Triple Crown. "It's only 16 days since the last race, but it's our only option.

"All you hope for each time you step him up is that he can answer the challenge."