06/24/2003 12:00AM

Morris gets reward for mule ride

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Ryan Morris wound up the San Joaquin County Fair meet in style by winning three races on Sunday. As a result, Morris broke a tie with Ken Tohill to finish as the meet's leading rider.

Morris, who had only four mounts, won three straight races, including a mule race with Black Ruby, the queen of the northern California fair circuit.

Morris, who rode mules regularly when he began on the fair circuit two years ago, began to ride fewer last year as he got more mounts on Thoroughbreds. He hadn't planned to ride mules at all this year before Jim Burns, Black Ruby's regular rider, was injured three days before the start of the fair season at Stockton.

Morris gave Black Ruby a perfect ride as she recorded her 70th victory in 86 starts.

She drew the rail, never her favorite spot, which meant she would spend the longest time in the gate. If Black Ruby has a weakness, it's that she is not at her best in the gate.

But Morris got her to break quickly, and she cleared rivals. The inside of the track wasn't playing as well as the outside so Morris guided her out to the better footing and to a place where she could see arch-rival Taz and Sarah Nelson, who may supplant Taz as her primary foe this year.

The result was a neck victory over Sarah Nelson with Taz, who beat her by a nose in their previous start, another three-quarters length back.

"It's very exciting, especially when you're on the most popular mule in the world," Morris said.

Morris finished the Stockton meet with 15 victories and said he hopes it can mark the start of big things this summer.

"This can be a nice start," said Morris, who used Stockton as a honeymoon. He was married on June 7, and his new bride, Tammy, was the stewards' aide in the winner's circle at Stockton.

Disqualification in dead heat

Stewards Will Meyers, Pam Berg, and Grant Baker declared a disqualification in a dead heat on June 19.

Sudden Bluff won the $5,000 claimer at one mile by three lengths with Senior Shine and Hawk's Top Gun dead-heating for second. But Hawk's Top Gun bumped Senior Shine in the lane and was disqualified from the dead heat for second to third.

Instead of having to share second money, Senior Shine got it all.

"We're sorry it took so long," Meyers said, "but we had to verify the dead heat first and then look at films to determine if there was a foul. We felt the inside horse came out and bothered the other so we had to change it."

* Through Tuesday morning, mutuel figures for the San Joaquin County Fair showed a 3 percent increase compared with 2002 totals and only $70,000 under the fair's all-time handle in 2000. But the numbers will rise even more, said fair CEO Forrest White, when final figures from advance deposit wagering are added in. ADW handle could top $1 million.

* One reason for Stockton's success was that its purse structure, by law, had to match that of Bay Meadows since the two tracks overlapped for one week. Purses at the bottom are much lower for the current Alameda County Fair meet at Pleasanton, prompting complaints from trainers. As a result, Pleasanton increased bottom-level purses by $1,500.