09/30/2003 11:00PM

Men's Exclusive a class act


SAN MATEO, Calif. - He may be venerable but 10-year-old millionaire Men's Exclusive will be anything but vulnerable when he returns from a nearly five-month layoff in Saturday's $100,000 California Sprint Championship at Bay Meadows.

Men's Exclusive has nearly as many starts (45) as his four probable rivals (53) combined - and nearly as many wins 11-17, but he has more than triple the earnings of his four likely rivals - with $1,433,528 compared to $473,172. He actually won the 1997 edition of this six-furlong race before any of his probable rivals on Saturday were foaled, and he was the lukewarm favorite when sixth in the Breeders' Cup Sprint in his subsequent start that year.

Men's Exclusive has been with trainer Wesley Ward since Oct. 1 of his yearling year.

"I've had him so long in the same stall, it's going to be a sad day when he's gone," Ward said.

But he's not gone yet and, in fact, visited the winner's circle earlier this year after winning an allowance race.

Men's Exclusive has had the same groom, Manuel Frausto, since arriving at the track and the same shoer, Wesley Champagne, whom Ward credits for much of the gelding's success.

"Every day, his groom goes through the same routine," Ward said. "He has bad feet, a chronic foot problem, and he puts them in hot water with Epsom salts and puts his feet in ice before he goes to the track. He wears glue-on shoes. Without that, the horse wouldn't be able to run."

Men's Exclusive's races have often been well-spaced because of his foot problems, but he has run well fresh in the past.

"His comebacks are very well thought out and planned," Ward said. "With him, you know where he is and have a target for a couple of months.

Ward put a bullet 45.80-second half-mile work into Men's Exclusive on Sunday.

"I wanted a good sharp drill into him," he said. "If he's got gas in the tank, he'll be there Saturday."

Ali's Gold one to beat

With three tracks running in California, pickings were slim with only 48 horses entered for Friday night's card at Bay Meadows.

Five 3-year-olds running 5 1/2 furlongs for a $16,000 claiming tag compete in the feature.

Fire Within Fire, winner of a stakes race at Kamloops in British Columbia; Frantastic, third at this level in his last start; and likely pacesetter Personal Plan will vie for favoritism; but comebacking Ali's Gold may be the one to beat.

* Bay Meadows begins a series of handicapping seminars Saturday with author Steve Fierro as the first guest. The seminars will be held at the Sports Bar at 11 a.m.