11/01/2005 12:00AM

'Niners' has talent, lacks experience


ALBANY, Calif. - The eight-horse field for Thursday's Golden Gate Fields feature, an optional $25,000 claiming sprint at six furlongs, is evenly divided between 3-year-olds on the way up and older claiming types.

Trainer Steve Specht may have the one to beat in Playin the Niners, a 3-year-old colt claimed for $32,000 in his debut. In five starts for Specht, Playin the Niners has won his last two races and finished second three times before that. But Specht knows that Playin the Niners has his work cut out for him on Thursday.

"Even if you've got the best 3-year-old, they're still in tough when they go against older," he said.

Specht has never run the colt for a tag. Playin the Niners was a close second to some talented maidens before winning his maiden by four lengths at Santa Rosa. He then won a $40,000 starter allowance race at Bay Meadows.

Playin the Niners has been freshened for nearly two months as Specht opted to wait until racing returned to his home track at Golden Gate Fields.

"I didn't want to run him back at Bay Meadows," said Specht, who has given the colt a series of steady works to maintain his fitness, including a six-furlong bullet in 1:11.40 two weeks ago.

Specht put the fast work into the colt when a race similar to Thursday's didn't fill. While he would prefer running Playin the Niners against 3-year-olds, Specht decided to run in this spot because the colt needs a race.

"He's a useful little horse," Specht said, but he cautioned that the presence of hard-knocking veteran Barron H, who has also won his past two starts, makes for a difficult assignment.

Barron H, just claimed by trainer John Martin, who wins 31 percent off the claim, has 3 wins and 4 seconds in 9 starts this year. His 12 career victories are double the number of races Playin the Niners has even run in.

Blue Eyed Blond, a 3-year-old making his third start after nearly a year's layoff, is another worth watching.

- Specht, who won the Cal Cup Distaff with Our Mango last year, has no Cal Cup runners this year. Our Mango, the lone northern California runner to win a Cal Cup race last year, fractured her leg in a recent workout and has been retired. Specht's crack sprinter Bonfante is getting a rest and will be put back into training next spring.