10/31/2002 12:00AM

Northern shippers seek repeat performance


SAN MATEO, Calif. - Northern California horsemen, coming off their most successful year ever in the California Cup, hope to have an equally large say Saturday at Santa Anita in the 13th annual running of the event that showcases California-breds.

Prior to Wednesday's draw, the northern California-based Ninebanks, trained by Jerry Hollendorfer, loomed as the likely morning-line favorite for the Mile. Then he drew the 14 post, and Hollendorfer is now wavering on whether to run him.

Hollendorfer, northern California's perennial leading trainer, has two Cal Cup victories. Last year, he saddled Yougottawanna in the Juvenile and scored one of the most surprising upsets in Cal Cup history when he defeated Officer. The Hollendorfer-trained Surprized ran third in the race. He also won the Sprint with Wild Gold in 1995.

"I don't know if I'll run [Ninebanks]," Hollendorfer said. "I really don't like the post. I may scratch him. It's almost impossible to win from that post. The competition is just too good to win from there."

Armando Lage also saddled a winner last year when Lil Sister Stitch won the Distaff Starter Handicap, which has been replaced this year by a 1 1/4-mile turf race called the Distance Handicap. Lil Sister Stitch led a one-two northern California sweep with Super Tuesday finishing second.

The northern California-based Lage also has two Cal Cup victories, having won the 1996 Juvenile with Carmen's Baby when he was stabled in Southern California.

He has four entrants this year with Ste. Pecheresse in the Distance Handicap, Gypsy Road in the 1 1/2-mile Starter Handicap on the turf, Chic Domestique in the 1 1/16-mile Matron, and Court Costs in the six-furlong Starter Sprint Handicap.

Lage, who also nominated Ste. Pecheresse to the 6 1/2-furlong Distaff on the turf, said he opted for the Distance with the 3-year-old filly because she seems to relish more ground.

"I think at a mile and a quarter, she'll be a contender," he said, "but she'll be a longshot."

The Starter Sprint drew four other northern California-based horses, although the presence of Stoney probably means everyone else is running for second, according to Kent Molinaro, trainer of South City.

Molinaro and Allen Severinsen, who trains Humbolt Avenue, have both won the Starter Handicap. Molinaro won it in 1995 with Alki Joe for one of his two victories at Santa Anita. Severinsen won it in 2000 with White Cloud, who also ran second in last year's edition.

Molinaro said he started South City in a $32,000 claimer in his last start simply to qualify him for the Starter Sprint. South City will break from the 13 post.

"South City's style should fit," Molinaro said. "He can put himself into the race, and he's not one-dimensional. He doesn't need to lead or come from way out of it."

Including his maiden victory on May 25, Humbolt Avenue has a pair of first-place finishes and three runner-up tries in five sprints. A ninth-place finish in a one-mile turf race was his only poor race.

"I think my horse could be tough if he runs his race," Severinsen said. "Throw the debacle out on the turf, and he's really run some good races."

Surprise Halo will break from the rail for co-owner and trainer Dennis Ward. Surprise Halo was a fast-finishing second to Ninebanks in the $100,000 California Turf Championship at Bay Meadows on Sept. 2 and followed with an easy victory in a $50,000 optional claimer.

The 4-year-old gelding has never been off the board on the turf with eight wins, four seconds, and two thirds in 14 starts.

"I don't know if he's a champion, but he deserves a chance to run," Ward said. "Nobody better get in his way late because he always finishes."

Ward likes the fact he'll get a ground-saving trip.

"The further back he is, the better," Ward said. "Hopefully, he won't get stopped. He won at Hollywood Park circling seven wide, and he dived into the rail in the Bay Meadows race [Cal Turf Championship]. He went by Spinelessjellyfish but never saw that horse [Ninebanks] outside."

Northern California has two representatives in the speed-laden Sprint with El Dorado Shooter and Con Quixote.

El Dorado Shooter has run second in his two starts since coming back from a six-month layoff but has the highest last race Beyer Speed Figure.

Con Quixote has run just over 1:08 in winning his last three starts at six furlongs. Each win has come at a different track with the most recent a seven-length win over Men's Exclusive in the Bull Dog at Fresno.

"We're just hoping for the best, but he deserves to go," said Steve Sherman, assistant trainer of Con Quixote. "He's run some fast times, and the horse is awful sharp right now. But it's going to be hard."

El Dorado Shooter lost to Stoney in the California Sprint Championship on Oct. 5 at Bay Meadows. Cliff Delima, El Dorado Shooter's trainer, said, "I think the race is just as tough even without him."

Two northern California mares will compete in the 6 1/2-furlong Distaff on the turf, run down Santa Anita's famed hill.

Gloria Haley is excited that the one-eyed mare More Mascara made the field. More Mascara has risen from the claiming ranks to become stakes placed at age seven.

"She worked on the turf and seemed to handle it okay," Haley said. "I was a little worried about going from turf to dirt [back] to turf with her having only one eye, but she adjusted well."

Fancee Bargain, who became a stakes winner at age six this year, has picked up checks in seven straight stakes efforts for the Sherman barn.

"She's been freshened up since running three times at Del Mar," Sherman said. "She's got a chance. She's training good [two six-furlong bullet works on the Santa Anita turf] and tries every time."

Trainer Ed Moger Jr. believes prominent northern California owners Curt and Lila Lanning may have a chance for their first Cal Cup win with Amber Hills in the Juvenile Fillies.

"She's a good filly and the best chance, by far, I've ever had to win a Cal Cup race," Moger said.