06/26/2003 11:00PM

'Nighthunter' may be best of green bunch


PLEASANTON, Calif. - Eight 2-year-old fillies will be looking for black type for the first time Sunday in the $40,000-added Juan Gonzalez Memorial Stakes at the Alameda County Fair.

The field includes three first-time starters, four winners of maiden claiming races, and one filly who ran second in her debut. Only one member of the field, Sweet Nine, has run in a stakes before, and she was seventh, beaten 16 lengths, in Hollywood Park's Cinderella in her last start.

Sunday's five-furlong race may be a career apex for some of these. Or it may be the start of something big.

Ellen Jackson isn't sure where Cajun Purchase fits into the picture, although Jackson, who bred, owns, and trains the filly, said she would have preferred running in a claiming race had any been offered.

"I hate to see her run over her head," Jackson said, while admitting there's no real indication she is asking too much of Cajun Purchase here.

Trainer Clifford Sise wasn't sure where Nighthunter Two fit when she made her debut, so he started her for a $40,000 claiming tag at Hollywood Park. After an 8 1/2-length, wire-to-wire victory in that race, Nighthunter Two likely will be the favorite Sunday, and Sise has a Del Mar stakes picked out for her next assignment should she run well.

"She runs fast and is doing good right now," Sise said. "I have two for Halo Farms who seem about the same. Basically, where else am I going to run? I'm going to try her in this stakes, and if she runs good, she'll come back in the CTBA Stakes at Del Mar."

Sise said Nighthunter Two had some health concerns early and "wasn't the greatest work horse," so he started her for a tag.

"I knew she'd be in front early, but I didn't expect to win like that," he said.

While Sise has lifted his sights, Jackson is still learning about Cajun Purchase, who ran three times in early two-furlong races, winning a $32,000 claimer at Bay Meadows April 23.

Louisiana Slew, Cajun Purchase's sire, is known for producing precocious youngsters, so Jackson was willing to run her filly early to take advantage of that.

"Her first race, she had a spotted pony who scared her," Jackson said. "She ran all the way around the track, but the stewards still let her run, and she finished second against colts.

"I took her down south for her second race, and she bled. After she won up here, I gave her a month off thinking there would be some races for winners on the fairs, but there's only going to be stakes races for now."