09/24/2003 11:00PM

Ninebanks a danger on home turf

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SAN MATEO, Calif. - There is one sure thing about Saturday's Grade 3, $200,000 Bay Meadows Breeders' Cup Handicap, the richest race of the Bay Meadows fall meet: Ninebanks is the horse for the course.

In the past 13 months, Ninebanks has run eight times in northern California, with five wins and three seconds for $401,360 in earnings. During the same period, he has run four times in Southern California, finishing fifth once and earning $3,000.

"Perhaps he doesn't care for the tracks down there," trainer Jerry Hollendorfer said. "If we had him stabled down there, he might do a little better."

Ninebanks will face nine rivals in the Bay Meadows BC at 1 1/8 miles on the turf. His main challengers include a pair of Southern California shippers, Chilean Group 1 winner Mister Acpen, who finished second in the Charles Whittingham in June, and Fateful Dream, who will be making his third start back following surgery to remove chips from an ankle and an 11-month layoff.

Others who could be factors include Like a Hero, stakes placed against last year's best 3-year-olds; California Cup Classic winner Calkins Road, who will be making his turf debut; and locals Surprise Halo and Aly Bubba.

Ron Warren Jr., Ninebanks's regular rider, said Ninebanks is a different horse on his home tracks in northern California.

"Any time we go down south, he gets quiet and real hot," Warren said. "He gets hot in the paddock and hot in the post parade, then he lets down."

Ninebanks has won 10 of 32 starts and earned $587,093. He has won four times over the turf here, with his only defeat coming by a neck to David Copperfield in last year's Bay Meadows Breeders' Cup.

"I think a lot of guys around here think Ron's the best rider on turf," Hollendorfer said. "He fits the horse and has confidence in him."

Hollendorfer says the 5-year-old gelding, whom he claimed for $50,000 for Peter Abruzzo in August 2001, is a nervous horse who likes to be left alone.

"We train him, bathe him, put him back in his stall, and leave him alone," Hollendorfer said.

Warren does much the same when he rides him.

"I just try not to mess with him too much," Warren said. "He kind of resents it when you push too much."

Mister Acpen figures to use his early speed, but faces pace pressure from Lily's Lad.