11/28/2003 1:00AM

New Year's Day will seem odd without I'madrifter


ALBANY, Calif. - One familiar face was missing from Friday's Forty-Niner Handicap at Golden Gate Fields - I'madrifter.

I'madrifter, a 5-year-old who won both the Grade 3 Berkeley and Lafayette handicaps here earlier this year, has been retired and will stand at stud at Applebite Farms in French Camp, Calif, in 2004.

"He was neat to train and real manageable," said trainer Steve Specht, who will particularly miss I'madrifter come New Year's Day.

I'madrifter won the Lafayette on New Year's Day the past two years. His victory to ring in 2002 was the first $100,000 race ever won by owner Dan O'Neill.

I'madrifter won four stakes - all at one mile - and seven career races. He earned $291,213 in 25 starts.

"He could have earned a lot more money," Specht said.

I'madrifter was leading by three lengths in the stretch of the one-mile Grade 3 California Juvenile in his stakes debut as a 2-year-old at Bay Meadows when he inexplicably ducked into the rail. He came right back to win the Gold Rush at a mile over a muddy track at Golden Gate Fields but then was forced to the sidelines, missing much of his 3-year-old season.

He ran third, beaten 1 1/2 lengths, in his final start June 15 in the Emerald Downs Handicap, suffering an injury after the race.

Takin It Deep retired

Takin It Deep, who beat I'madrifter in the career debut for both horses, will also stand his first season at stud in 2004.

Winner of the 2001 California Derby, Takin It Deep will stand at Meadows Creek in Auburn, Calif., according to trainer Gil Matos, who had to retire him last summer.

Figueroa out of action again

Jockey Omar Figueroa underwent surgery Tuesday to secure fractured bones in his left wrist after a Sunday workout spill and will be sidelined for an estimated 10 weeks.

Figueroa, 19, broke his left wrist and collarbone in a Sept. 21 spill at Bay Meadows that sidelined him until opening day at Golden Gate Fields.

He then strained his left wrist in a starting gate mishap on Nov. 14 and was sidelined for two days.

Baze, Miranda get days

Russell Baze, the nation's second leading rider by victories, was suspended three days (Dec. 5-7) after being disqualified from fifth to seventh aboard Double Eight "for failure to make a proper effort to maintain a straight course in the stretch and causing interference" in Thursday's seventh race .

Alfredo Miranda was suspended for five days (Dec. 5-11) after being disqualified from second to sixth aboard Kona Queen "for crossing over without sufficient clearance down the backstretch and causing interference" in Thursday's third race.

Pair of sprints top Sunday card

Sprinters will be featured here Sunday when nine Cal-breds, headed by Natural Style and Midafternoon, meet in a six-furlong allowance sprint, and eight others meet in a $32,000 claimer, also at six furlongs.

The claimer may actually end up the faster race as Twentythreejaybird and Barron H hook up for the third straight time.

Barron H caught the speedy Twentythreejaybird two back, while Twentythreejaybird went wire-to-wire last time, holding on to win a three-way photo in 1:08.55. Barron H was third in that race, beaten two noses.

Adding depth to the race is stalker Private Aviator, who was claimed from a $16,000 victory in his last start, and Stocks Are Rising, who should apply pace pressure to Twentythreejaybird.