11/26/2003 12:00AM

No clear favorite in Forty-Niner


ALBANY, Calif. - Friday's $75,000-added Forty-Niner Handicap at Golden Gate Fields is so competitive it's difficult to pin down a favorite.

Daunting and Truly a Judge are the highweights at 117 pounds for the 1 1/16-mile race, which will match 13 hard-trying older runners.

Daunting has won 4 of 7 starts, earning five triple-digit Beyers since being claimed in March for $16,000 by trainer Mark Glatt. Truly a Judge has run second in two stakes and was third in the Grade 3 Seabiscuit Handicap at Bay Meadows last spring.

Other contenders are Long Gone Con, claimed for $62,500 by trainer Art Sherman from a victory in his last start Nov. 5; Vallarta, winner of two straight on the turf; and How Bout Jose, claimed for $40,000 by trainer Brian Koriner from a second straight win.

Sherman is excited by Long Gone Con, who has a 22-6-7-2 career record. He recorded a career-best 107 Beyer - the highest Beyer this year by any Forty-Niner entrant - when he won the race from which Sherman claimed him.

"We figured the horse was a durable type," Sherman said.

Vallarta is probably considered more of a turf horse now on the strength of three straight victories on grass, including the Pacifica Handicap in his last start. But Vallarta shouldn't be dismissed on the dirt, says trainer Donna Elordi.

"He hasn't run long on the dirt in some time, but that's happenstance," said Elordi, noting Vallarta's three recent turf wins came at Friday's 1 1/16-mile distance.

Long Gone Con and Vallarta are the likely pacesetters, with Long Gone Con breaking from post 2 and Vallarta post 12. How Bout Jose, who should sit just off the early speed, drew post 13. Infinite Faith, who should also be part of the pace scenario, drew post 11.

How Bout Jose doesn't match many of his rivals' Beyers, but he has won two straight and should get a great stalking trip.

Lethal Instrument and Aly Bubba overcame trouble to finish one-two in an $80,000 optional claimer here Nov. 8.

U S S Tinosa, a stablemate of Lethal Instrument's, has finished fifth and seventh in optional claiming races in the first two starts of a comeback. He was on the Triple Crown trail last year.