07/07/2004 11:00PM

Onebigbag tops another deep edition of the Whiting

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PLEASANTON, Calif. - Races often create a niche for themselves, developing reputations for quality year after year.

The Alameda County Fair's sprint championship, the $50,000 Sam J. Whiting Memorial Handicap, which tops the Saturday card, is such a race. And despite a switch in dates this year, the six-furlong Whiting again has drawn a deep, well-balanced field of eight sprinters.

"We usually run it the first weekend of the meet, but we pushed it back one week because the Bay Meadows Breeders' Cup Sprint ran on June 19," racing secretary Greg Brent said.

Onebigbag, winner of the Saratoga Handicap at Bay Meadows in his first start after being claimed for $50,000, could be the favorite.

"We planned to come back in the Bay Meadows Breeders' Cup Sprint," Onebigbag's trainer, John Martin, said. "But he got a little sick and was a little listless."

Onebigbag scored impressively in the Saratoga after showing a new dimension and sitting back just a bit early. He'll have the same option Saturday with El Dorado Shooter and Twentythreejaybird in the field, along with Onebadshark, who should be with the leaders on the turn.

"I thought he was a speed-only horse, but we planned to try to take back a little," Martin said of Onebigbag's effort in the Saratoga.

Onebigbag is not the only claiming success story scheduled to run in the Whiting.

Trainer Dennis Ward sends out Souvenir's Lad, who has won three straight since being claimed for $12,500 and five straight overall.

"He had back history and a lot of class," said Ward, who owns a share of Souvenir's Lad, a 4-year-old colt. "When I saw that [Jeff] Bonde had claimed him back himself, I thought it showed the horse was in good shape."

Since starting his win streak for a $10,000 claiming tag, Souvenir's Lad - who has won for $25,000 on the dirt, and twice for $32,000 on the turf for Ward - has been coming from off the pace.

"He's changed his way of running," Ward said. "I've noticed if you get him back off the pace, he really wants to run at 'em."

The X factor in the field is Mi Pingo, who won five of six starts in his native Argentina, losing only in the Group 1 Dardo Rocha at 1 1/2 miles.

"I wasn't considering going, because he's eligible for the first condition, but he's so sharp," trainer Allen Severinsen said.