09/18/2002 11:00PM

Ninebanks defends his home turf

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SAN MATEO, Calif. - How much the home course advantage means could determine the outcome of Saturday's Grade 3, $200,000 Bay Meadows Breeders' Cup Handicap.

The 1 1/8-mile turf race, the premier event of the fall meeting, drew only five horses.

Unlike the four-horse field in the San Francisco Breeders' Cup Mile last spring, which included Sarafan and Decarchy, who were then the two of the highest-rated turf runners in the country, Saturday's race includes only one graded-stakes winner, David Copperfield, winner of the Grade 3 Cinema Handicap at Hollywood Park in 2000.

Ninebanks, a $50,000 Jerry Hollendorfer claim, is the local hero with the home course advantage. He has won 4 of 6 starts on the Bay Meadows turf, including the San Matean Handicap and California Turf Championship in his past two starts.

"The horse is confident right now," Hollendorfer said. "He'll have to be better because there's a lot more competition here. It's a deep race. He'll have to dig a little deeper to earn it.

"He was a $50,000 claim. You're not supposed to win graded races with that kind, but there's no reason not to expect him to go on."

Ninebanks proved his quality when he finished second to Decarchy in the Grade 3 Tanforan Handicap at Golden Gate Fields on Feb. 9. He has won two straight under jockey Ron Warren Jr. after Hollendorfer's assistant Joe Jacot discovered something while galloping him.

He advised Warren to hold his hands higher than usual early in the race. "He naturally runs with his head up a little higher than most horses," Warren said. "When you hold your hands lower, it makes a horse's head come down. He settles better with his head up."

Warren has worked Ninebanks since his two wins and said, "He went as nice as any good horse I ever worked."

David Copperfield, who was a wire-to-wire winner at Del Mar in his comeback after 14 months on the sidelines, will be on the lead, said his trainer, John Shirreffs. But the presence of Prodigious will force him to cut out swift fractions.

Dance Dreamer, who won the Escondido Handicap at Del Mar on Aug. 7, was eighth, beaten only 2 1/2 lengths in the 1 3/8-mile, Grade 2 Del Mar Handicap on Sept. 1 on a course that was too hard for him.

Bobby Frankel's assistant Humberto Ascanio said Dance Dreamer is a "nice horse, but I don't think he could beat some of the tough horses in our barn."

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