11/24/2004 12:00AM

No easy task for Skipaslew

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ALBANY, Calif. - Trainer Doug O'Neill had one of the stars of last year's Golden Gate Fields meet with Skipaslew, who went from the claiming ranks to the Triple Crown trail.

The Southern California-based O'Neill sends Skipaslew back to Golden Gate Fields for Friday's $75,000-added Forty-Niner Handicap, a 1 1/16-mile race with a field of nine.

was an unknown when he won the Gold Rush here last year. He then won the Grade 3 Golden Gate Derby before running seventh at 2-1 in the Grade 3 El Camino Real Derby.

Skipaslew has not won since the Jan. 10 Golden Gate Derby and comes into Friday's race surrounded by questions as he meets older runners for the first time Friday.

Skipaslew will probably be overlooked in the wagering, as he was when he paid $19.80 in the Gold Rush after upsetting Longacres Mile winner Adreamisborn and multiple-stakes-winning stablemate Yougottawanna.

"Last year, he was a horse we'd recently claimed, and we were excited the way he responded," O'Neill said.

Since running seventh in the El Camino, Skipaslew has been fifth in the Illinois Derby, eighth in the Laz Barrera, and then, after a break of nearly four months, finished fourth in both the Pomona Derby and Lone Star Derby in his last two starts.

Each of Skipaslew's rivals in the Forty-Niner, with the exception of Brazilian-bred Oceanus, is a stakes winner. Oceanus was impressive in his U.S. debut Nov. 3, when he scored a $62 upset in an allowance race.

Adreamisborn is coming off a strong effort against Roses in May in the Grade 2 Kentucky Cup Classic. Yougottawanna has run well here in the past and ran so poorly in his last start in the Cal Cup Classic that the race has to be ignored. Royal Place, who beat Yougottawanna in the Lt. Governor's Handicap at Hastings, also merits consideration because he has shown an ability to run well up front.

My Creed, eighth in the Lone Star Derby after winning two straight stakes, is the only other 3-year-old in the race besides Skipaslew.