03/03/2004 12:00AM

'Mister B' steps up after win

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ARCADIA, Calif. - When Cee Mister B scored a powerful maiden win over California-breds on Feb. 12, he jumped to the fore of the statebred male division.

returns in a $52,000 optional claimer against statebreds in Friday's fourth race at Santa Anita, a race that trainer David Bernstein hopes will move the 3-year-old colt closer to a stakes in April. The optional claimer is run over 1 1/16 miles.

Bernstein warns that Cee Mister B is returning a week earlier than expected, and that his training schedule has been disrupted by weather.

"This might be a little ahead of our schedule," Bernstein said. "We're playing it by ear. He's doing so good we may need to run him.

"This is not ideally what I would like to do, but the race came up. You never know if they'll have another race for California-breds for another three weeks."

Cee Mister B has five opponents, including He's the Rage, the winner of the California Cup Juvenile last November. Trained by Jim Cassidy, He's the Rage has not started since finishing eighth in the open division of the California Breeders' Champion Stakes here on Dec. 26.

Cassidy said He's the Rage was found to be ill.

"We had a bit of a virus through Christmas and in January," Cassidy said. "He wasn't quite himself."

has one win in three starts. After finishing third against statebred maidens on Oct. 11, he scored a convincing four-length win in the California Cup Juvenile.

Cassidy says He's the Rage has bounced back.

"He seems to be pretty serious right now," he said. "He worked really keen. I expect him to run pretty good."

Cee Mister B and He's the Rage are stalkers. Dancin Candy, an invader from Golden Gate Fields who has two wins in eight starts, is likely to lead. Both wins came against claimers. Iza Big Star, Rivermaster, and Royal Photographer will be longshots.

Cee Mister B had a perfect trip under Kent Desormeaux in his maiden win. Sent off as the favorite in a field of nine, Cee Mister B stalked the pace to early stretch and pulled away to win by three lengths. "I'm very high on him," Desormeaux said.

A victory by Cee Mister B could lead to a start in the $250,000 Snow Chief Stakes for statebreds at Hollywood Park on April 24.

Bernstein is taking a conservative approach. "Let's see where he runs here and go from there," he said.