11/04/2004 1:00AM

One more big race or bounce?

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SAN MATEO, Calif. - When a 3-year-old colt shows marked improvement in a race, it usually means one of two things: He has reached a new level or he ran the race of his life and will bounce badly from it.

Trainer Craig Dollase has a colt who fits that description in Hendrix. Dollase will find out Saturday just where his budding star is headed in the Grade 3, $100,000 Bay Meadows Derby.

Hendrix, whose only victory was in a maiden race, has seen his Beyer Speed Figure improve in each of his last five starts, jumping 12 points to a 101 when third in the Grade 2 Oak Tree Derby last time out.

Big Squeeze, Congressional Honor, New Course, and On the Acorn, seventh in the Oak Tree Derby, also come off career bests.

Dollase hopes a career-best Beyer indicates Hendrix, a $310,000 Keeneland purchase as a 2-year-old, is blossoming into the type of runner he and owner J. Paul Reddam envision.

"He's an improving 3-year-old on the right track. He's headed in the right direction," said Dollase of Hendrix, the likely favorite in the field of eight in the 1 1/8-mile turf race.

Hendrix is a son of Sultry Song out of Fluttery Danseur, who won the Vallejo Stakes at Golden Gate Fields. Hendrix has made six of his seven career starts on turf, earning a check in each start.

"Sultry Songs have taken to grass," Dollase said, noting Singletary's victory in the Breeders' Cup Mile as the most recent example. "[Hendrix] has a turf foot, it's a little wider, flat foot, and he seems to like the surface softer. He's bred for grass and two turns."

Hendrix's primary rival could be Kingdom Come, who is 2 for 2 over the Longden Turf Course, and is a bit more versatile with better early speed.

"He's a kind of a one-paced runner," Dollase said of Hendrix. "He's not fast but steady, that's why a mile and an eighth or a mile and quarter may be best for him."

Hendrix has run over the turf at Bay Meadows, finishing third against older in a Sept. 19 race while earning a Beyer of 89.

"There's a big difference running against older," Dollase said. "We wanted to get him a race before the Oak Tree Derby. He ran fast, and now he's come back against 3-year-olds and did very well. After this we have an eye on the Hollywood Derby," a Grade 1 race on Nov. 28.