08/18/2001 12:00AM

Ninebanks up north for fair's final card


SAN MATEO, Calif. - Ninebanks, a recent $50,000 claim by trainer Jerry Hollendorfer, looms a standout when he makes his northern California debut in Monday's $32,000 allowance feature for 3-year-olds at Bay Meadows. The race is at a mile on the grass on closing day of the 12-day San Mateo County Fair meeting.

Ninebanks will be coupled in the wagering with Defensive, who is also trained by Hollendorfer, and the entry looms a prohibitive favorite.

In his last two starts, both going 1 1/16 miles on the turf in $50,000 claiming races at Del Mar, Ninebanks set the pace, opened clear leads in midstretch, but got caught late and finished second. A repeat of either of those races would make him very tough to beat in this modest allowance field.

Of course, Ninebanks has never raced on this turf course, and that creates some doubt. If he does falter, his entrymate Defensive could save the day. He will be trying turf for the first time, but figures to be in the thick of things if he handles the new surface.

The main threat to the entry is probably the sharp and improving Surprise Halo from the Dennis Ward stable. Surprise Halo won an $8,000 maiden claiming race as recently as April 25, but he has not finished worse than third in five subsequent starts in starter allowance races and $20,000 claiming races, and he has raced well twice over this turf course.

Reel Em In, who has been freshened since beating straight maidens over this course June 17, and Gypsy Road, who won over this course for a $25,000 claiming price on Aug. 8, also figure as contenders.