12/12/2002 12:00AM

Match worthy of excitement

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ALBANY, Calif. - Owner Dennis Narlinger admits he is thinking of the classics for D's Bertrando next year. Donnie McFadden, the breeder and co-owner of Buddy Gil, says he was only hoping for a nice horse, and is thrilled by his horse's progress.

The matchup between these two rising 2-year-olds in Saturday's $75,000 Gold Rush Stakes at Golden Gate Fields has piqued the interest of northern California racing fans.

Although Jeff Bonde, who trains D's Bertrando, and Buddy Gil's trainer, Chuck Jenda, downplay the idea, there hasn't been this much excitement over a pair of 2-year-olds in northern California since eventual millionaires Event of the Year and Dixie Dot Com made their debuts in the fall of 1997.

Anticipation for the matchup has built since Buddy Gil won his second straight race in the Nov. 24 Golden Bear Stakes by 7 1/2 lengths.

D's Bertrando was entered in the Golden Bear but was scratched because trainer Jeff Bonde decided to give him more time after a sensational Nov. 9 maiden victory that resulted in a Beyer Speed Figure of 105.

D's Bertrando and Buddy Gil come from different backgrounds. D's Bertrando was a $120,000 Barretts purchase as a yearling, while Buddy Gil is a homebred.

"Big, correct Bertrandos have been goods ones," Bonde said, adding that D's Bertrando reminded him of another son of Bertrando, Officer, though D's Bertrando "was a little more rangy and looked like he'd go much farther. I liked his athletic walk."

Narlinger relies on Bonde's judgment. "Jeff has a great eye for horses. I rely on his expertise," he said.

Narlinger, who has since purchased Officer and will stand him at stud at Gainesway Farm in Kentucky, said D's Bertrando was "big, strong, correct."

McFadden, who lives in Hagerman, Idaho, is the breeder of 2001 California Derby winner Takin It Deep. He owns Buddy Gil's dam - Really Rising - second dam and third dam, as well as the dam's sire and the sire of the second dam. He sent Really Rising to Kentucky to be bred to Eastern Echo, a son of Damascus who stands for $3,000, because he likes Damascus and thought breeding to one of his sons would produce a nice runner.

While neither Narlinger, who lives in Southern California, nor McFadden has been to Golden Gate before, both plan to attend Saturday.

"I never get out of Hagerman, but we're pretty excited," said McFadden,

"I've had a lot of winners in northern California, but I will be watching my first race there," Narlinger said.

Both trainers like the way their horses are improving.

Buddy Gil is "very big, strong, muscular," Jenda said. "But he's plain-looking. He wouldn't turn heads when he walks by."

Jenda has been impressed since Buddy Gil arrived in his barn in July.

"He came in from Idaho, and when they say they're sending me a nice colt, it's a nice colt," Jenda said. "He always worked good. He did things easily and did them fast. He'd go 1:01 and do it easily, with his chin against his chest. Others you really have to ask. He always gave the impression there was more there."

D's Bertrando arrived at Bonde's barn in the spring.

D's Bertrando was a late foal, born in May, and he injured his shins when he was up to working a half-mile, Bonde said. "We got the shins fixed and started him in the fall," he said."

Despite the speed he showed in recording his maiden victory, D's Bertrando "is not the run-off type," according to Bonde.

"When we work him by himself, he'll go slow," Bonde said.

D's Bertrando worked six furlongs in 1:12.40 on Nov. 28, then was clocked in 1:14.80 on Dec. 6.

"He worked the second time by himself, at his own pace and galloped out a mile," Bonde said, noting that Russell Baze, who will ride the colt Saturday, "was very pleased with how he went."

Both youngsters have bloodlines that indicate they shouldn't mind the heavy rains predicted for Saturday, and both trainers indicate they will run even if the track isn't fast.