02/09/2004 12:00AM

O.K. Mikie bags stakes win


ALBANY, Calif. - Even though Bending Strings, a filly meeting colts, didn't win the Golden State Mile on Sunday, it was certainly Cinderella Day at Golden Gate Fields.

Bending Strings ran second to O.K. Mikie in the Golden State Mile as the favorite. It was not only her first race against males, but also her first race around two turns. Her future may be brightest among the eight 3-year-olds in the race.

Nevertheless, O.K. Mikie's victory had to bring smiles to anyone who likes underdogs.

Since being claimed by trainer Jerry McArthur for $25,000 in a six-way shake on Nov. 7, O.K. Mikie, has run third in the Gold Rush Stakes, second in the Grade 3 Golden Gate Derby, and now first in the Golden State Mile.

Sunday's win gave gave McArthur and owner Charles Lo their first stakes victories. McArthur has been training for 10 years and Lo has owned horses off and on since the early 1990's.

O.K. Mikie's former owner-breeder-trainer Ellen Jackson said Sunday night that she was celebrating the gelding's win with a glass of champagne.

She had double reason to celebrate. First, she earned a hefty breeders' award for the victory. Second, earlier in the day she visited the winner's circle with Signal Won, bred and foaled at her Victory Rose Thoroughbreds near Vacaville, a 45-minute drive from Golden Gate Fields. Jackson trains Signal Won and is a co-owner.

Jackson has no regrets about losing O.K. Mikie to McArthur, a former client for whom she used to train. His barn is next to hers at Golden Gate, and he advised her before the Nov. 7 race that he had a client who wanted to claim the gelding.

"All my horses are for sale," Jackson said. "I asked $40,000 for him but could never get an offer of more than $35,000. There were no races for $40,000 so I entered him for $25,000 knowing that if I won I'd get close to $40,000.

"My only regret is that I sold the mare" - [Anadarko Ok].

McArthur originally planned to run O.K. Mikie in Sunday's Sham Stakes at 1 1/8 miles at Santa Anita, but when that race came up tough, he decided to drop back to a mile after the 1 1/16-mile Golden Gate Derby.

Even though the track was playing to speed, he told jockey Adalberto Lopez to stay off the pace because he knew O.K. Mikie, who had been training to go 1 1/8 miles, would be fit enough to close late at a mile.

Next up is the Grade 3, $200,000 El Camino Real Derby at 1 1/16 miles on March 13. Skipaslew, who won the Gold Rush and the Golden Gate Derby, is pointing to that race.

River Ella finally wins

There was another Cinderella story Sunday with River Ella winning her first race in her 17th start. She paid $61.40. A 4-year-old filly, she had eight seconds and three thirds coming into the race.

What made the victory sweeter for trainer Sherrie Monroe and her husband/assistant Joe Borg was that it came in a first-level allowance race against winners.

"We had no place to run her," Borg said. "Every time we tried to enter her in a maiden race, only one or two would go so the race wouldn't fill. There was no other place where we could put her."

Monroe, who also works in the mutuels department, said, "We couldn't ship her to Santa Anita. She wasn't eligible there because she ran for a $12,500 tag at Turf Paradise early in her career.

River Ella was a close fourth against winners two races back. "All the unusual things we've done are only because we've had no other place to run her," Monroe said. "If we could have run in a maiden race we would have."

Attack Force tops Wednesday feature

Attack Force, who won in his lone start at the distance, is the one to beat in Wednesday's feature, a one-mile first-level allowance race. True Dancer, making his California debut after running on the East Coast, and Foxlair, looking for his first main-track win, are the main competition. All three are stalkers who will sit close to likely pacesetter Moveinday.

Attack Force faded badly in the lane in his last start, a 1 1/16-mile race on a soft Lakeside Turf Course.

"I wouldn't rule out turf in the future, but I wouldn't want to run back on it right now," trainer Dennis Patterson said. "He went okay early but was just having to work too hard over the soft turf.

"He'll have no problem going a route."

Weekend stakes

Saturday's $55,000-added Richmond Handicap has 13 nominees, including Bold Roberta and Channing Way, who ran second and third in the Sunshine Millions Filly and Mare Sprint; Christmas Time and Pheiffer, who were second and third to Ema Bovary in the Orinda Handicap; and Goldy Rocks, an impressive allowance winner here Jan. 17.