08/16/2001 11:00PM

Marathons and mules (good-night, Ferndale)

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FERNDALE, Calif. - The 45th running of northern California's longest summer stakes event - the 1 5/8-mile Humboldt County Marathon Handicap - will share the spotlight with a racing legend, the mule Black Ruby, as the 105th Humboldt Fair closes its most successful season ever, on Sunday.

Trainer Fred Costa will be in search of his third Marathon victory when he sends out stakes-winning 3-year-old Ironman Dehere in the Fair's premier event, in which runners must cross the finish line four times on this tight-turned, half-mile oval.

"The distance is always the question mark, going 1 5/8 miles," said Costa, who saddled previous Marathon winners Elkhart (1996) and Cajun Asset (1997). "But I feel Ironman will be up to the task."

Highweighted at 121 pounds, Ironman Dehere boasts victories in the Pleasanton Handicap and the Tempe Handicap in Arizona with similar press-pacing, late-surging efforts. He will spot rivals from six to 10 pounds in the grueling Marathon. Lycka, who rallied for back-to-back claiming wins in Stockton and Vallejo earlier this summer, figures to offer the main argument.

Earlier on the card, Black Ruby, often referred to as the Secretariat of mules, will seek her third consecutive Cream City Stakes victory in the 660-yard event around one turn.

One of the most popular figures now racing in California, Black Ruby has 49 wins, 8 seconds, and 3 thirds in a storied 60-race career. She had a 15-race win streak snapped two weeks ago in Santa Rosa by her nemesis Taz when she had to shoulder 131 pounds. She will carry 127 pounds.

Post time for the Getaway Day program will be 1:55 p.m.