06/05/2003 11:00PM

Nates Colony after repeat

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. - The Downs at Albuquerque wraps up its spring meet Sunday with a nine-race card headed by the track's signature race, the Downs at Albuquerque Handicap, a $100,000-added race for 4-year-olds and up going 1 1/8 miles. The race, which has drawn six horses, matches local contenders Curve Ball and Funny Meeting against Nates Colony, a Southern California-based runner who won the race last year.

Nates Colony has failed to win since then but merits favoritism based on solid efforts against the tough competition of his home circuit, as well as his undoubted ability to get the distance. Nates Colony was claimed for $50,000 at Santa Anita on Feb. 20 by trainer Rick Berry for Douglas Parker. In his first start for his new connections, Nates Colony finished third behind Asong for Billy in the 1 1/4-mile March Madness Handicap on March 23. Most recently, he was a close second in a classified allowance going 1 1/2 miles on Hollywood's turf April 23. Nates Colony carries co-high weight of 118 pounds and Casey Lambert has the mount.

Trainer Carlos Sedillo claimed Curve Ball on behalf of Three H Racing for $12,500 at Sunland this winter, and the 6-year-old gelding showed immediate improvement, winning an allowance in his first start for Sedillo, then finishing third behind Night Patrol in the Sunland Park Handicap. A win on Sunday would clinch horse of the meet honors for Curve Ball, who is 2 for 2 at The Downs, including a win in the Camino Real Handicap April 27.

The 1 1/8-mile distance will be a test for Curve Ball against the likes of Nates Colony. He carries 118 pounds, including jockey Jorge Bourdieu.

Funny Meeting began his career in Southern California before relocating to this circuit last fall. A 4-year-old colt owned by a partnership headed by trainer Johnie Nall, Funny Meeting has five wins and two seconds in seven starts since moving to New Mexico.

Distance is a primary concern with Funny Meeting. In the one-mile Camino Real, his first attempt racing farther than 6 1/2 furlongs, Funny Meeting took the lead into deep stretch only to be caught by Curve Ball in the final yards. Funny Meeting has been assigned 117 pounds and will have Ricardo Jaime in the saddle.

Also Sunday, 11 statebred 3-year-olds run seven furlongs in the $50,000 Casey Darnell Handicap. It is a wide-open race, as illustrated by the weight assignments. Six of the 11 have been assigned 120 or 118 pounds. This group includes Hasty Gus and Gulchrunssweet, co-highweights at 120, and Tornados Jack, Values of the Hunt, Bubba Hyde, and Casperino, all of whom will tote 118.