02/04/2003 12:00AM

No easy spot for Rio's Chase

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ALBANY, Calif. - Trainer Bill Delia has no illusions about Rio's Chase, who will meet five rivals in Thursday's feature race at Golden Gate Fields.

"He's just a cut under the real good horses," Delia said.

That's a double-edged sword for Delia, who turned Rio's Chase into a stakes winner last summer.

"That's a problem - to get a spot where he can get his confidence back," Delia said.

Rio's Chase will make his 4-year-old debut in the $62,500 optional claimer at one mile. He will meet Old Mizzou, who has 12 lifetime victories and dead-heated with Irish Pleasure, who is also in the race, nine lengths in front last time.

Rio's Chase has good speed and can carry it. He won the Pleasanton Handicap wire to wire last summer and opened a big lead only to be caught late by the older Takin It Deep in the Governors Handicap at Sacramento.

But Rio's Chase is unlikely to get an easy lead in Thursday's race with Always the Winner and Irish Pleasure in the field. He went head and head with Always the Winner in his last start on Dec. 26 before fading in the slop.

"We're going to find out what he's made of," Delia said. "We gave him a little freshener, and I really wanted to run him in a sprint, but no sprints were filling so I decided to go in this race. I hope the freshening did some good, and I know the fast track will help."

Despite his stakes victory, Rio's Chase does have some conditions left, but, as Delia said, "We keep getting these tough draws."

This race is no exception. Old Mizzou has more victories at Golden Gate Fields (four) than Rio's Chase has in his career (three).

Delia never took Rio's Chase out of training during his brief freshening, and he was particularly enthused by a bullet 58.40-second five-furlong work that was the best of 56 Sunday.

Rio's Chase will have a new rider, Kevin Radke, replacing regular jockey Caesar Bisono.

"It's nothing against Caesar," Delia said. "Radke's won a number of races for me when he was here. I heard he was coming back, and I figured I would give him a shot with some of my horses."

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