07/21/2003 12:00AM

Matos's favorite meeting underway


SANTA ROSA, Calif. - Trainer Gil Matos looks forward to the Santa Rosa meet all year long.

"It's the best two weeks of the year for me," he said. "I'm sure [some] horsemen feel the same about Del Mar and Saratoga, but no horseman enjoys [their track] more than I enjoy Santa Rosa."

Matos, stabled year-round at Golden Gate Fields, said he might run 15 horses during the 12-day meeting, and he gets off to a fast start on opening day Wednesday with three horses entered, each of which looks like a contender.

Matos enjoys success at Santa Rosa, winning at a 20 percent clip over the past four years and hitting board with 58 percent of his starters.

"I've often wondered why," he said. "It comes down to two things: Horses like the surface, and, because of my past success, my confidence gets up. When I run at Santa Rosa, I know my horses will run good."

The Santa Rosa track was once a year-round training facility but as the horse population decreased it closed down as a year-round operation. Still, the track is widely considered the best in northern California for safety.

That's one reason so many of northern California's better horses race there and why Southern California horses ship in for races such as the Aug. 2 Joseph T. Grace Handicap, which was the first $100,000 Thoroughbred stakes race on the fair circuit.

"I've run up there for 17 years and never walked away saying it wasn't a good track," Matos said. "I don't know if it's the base or whatever they put on it.

"It's a great surface for horses and it's not a speed-bias racetrack. Maybe the long stretch [1,145 feet] has something to do with it, too."

Because of the kind track surface, Matos said, "I bring horses because they run good off layoffs there."

On Wednesday, Matos starts Clever and Fancy in the sixth race, a six-furlong sprint for $3,200 claimers. A 4-year-old colt who comes from well off the pace, Clever and Fancy has a second in two previous starts at Santa Rosa.

Corporal Greiner returns for Matos at the $12,500 maiden claiming level in the seventh race. A 2-year-old filly, she ran second in her career debut and then was well beaten when moved up to $25,000 for her second start.

Trukndowntheavenue, third in a three-way photo after setting the pace in a one mile and 70-yard maiden race at Pleasanton, drops back to six furlongs in a $25,000 maiden claimer for Matos in the nightcap.