09/08/2004 11:00PM

Nuesch in need of some luck

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ARCADIA, Calif. - The Los Angeles County Fair race meet comes at just the right time for the horse Verkade and the jockey David Nuesch.

Verkade will try to bounce back after just one bad race when he and jockey Martin Pedroza race 1 1/16 miles Saturday in the $60,000 Phil D. Shepherd Stakes at Fairplex Park. Nuesch, meanwhile, will try to dig out from a deeper hole. He entered the meet having lost 62 straight races over the past three months, a streak that could end Saturday on Anziyan Royalty.

A field of 10 older horses entered the Shepherd, and only cold-hearted gamblers will wager against Nuesch and Anziyan Royalty. But so what? Nuesch is a friendly and able rider, but even he recognizes that racing is a game of streaks.

"It's kind of been an up-and-down year all the way around, with a couple bright spots and a lull again," Nuesch said. "Del Mar, outside of it being a beautiful place, turned out to be a crap meet. Murphy's Law kept showing up."

By mid-August, having not a won a race since June 4, Nuesch and agent Derek Lawson focused energy on Fairplex, where last year Nuesch won 11 of 84 races and established himself as one of the leading bullring riders. Nuesch, 34, is optimistic 2004 will be similarly successful. It figures to be. He was sixth in the Fairplex standings last year, and two riders above him (Tyler Baze and Ryan Fogelsonger) have not returned.

Beyond riding the five-eighth-mile Fairplex oval, Nuesch has shown he can deliver in stakes-pressure situations. In April, he rode Kela to victory in the Grade 3 Texas Mile.

"That was a career-best win for me, and a blessing to be part of," Nuesch said. "Ultimately, horses still make the game. You have to get on the live stock, and the opportunities are more plentiful [at Fairplex]."

Trainer Craig Dollase and owner-breeder Nick Cafarchia thought highly enough of Nuesch to name him on Anziyan Royalty. A California-bred who is 5 for 11 lifetime, Anziyan Royalty won his only bullring start last fall by more than five lengths and enters the Shepherd in sharp form. A presser likely to be positioned right behind the speed, Anziyan Royalty will be one of the favorites. But he must catch Verkade.

Following a runner-up finish in a fast Del Mar allowance race, Verkade was sent to Emerald Downs for the Grade 3 Longacres Mile. Everything went wrong.

"It came up muddy, he got sent at the half-mile pole, and that was the end of him," trainer Jeff Mullins said. Verkade, 3 for 15 in his career, may be the speed of the Shepherd field, and Pedroza will let him use his gas from the rail.

He will be pressured by Night Patrol, who last out chased Pleasantly Perfect and ran last in the Grace 1 Pacific Classic. Kerwin John rides Night Patrol for trainer Marcelo Polanco.

A pace meltdown may allow Fairplex specialist Sigfreto to upset. Winner of the 2001 Pomona Derby and 2002 Shepherd, Sigfreto was claimed last out by Doug O'Neill from a wide-trip win in a $20,000 claiming race.

The field also includes Manhattan Express, who won the 2002 Gateway to Glory Stakes at Fairplex by more than seven lengths.