11/06/2003 1:00AM

Pair of starter handicaps round out card


ARCADIA, Calif. - Even cheap claimers are pointed for Saturday's California Cup months in advance.

In July at Del Mar, Bernie Schiappa and trainer Frank Monteleone claimed Love that Lion for $16,000 with the $50,000 California Cup Starter Sprint Handicap over six furlongs at Santa Anita as a long-term goal.

On the way to Saturday's race, they lost Love that Lion for $20,000 in August, claimed him back for $25,000 in September, and risked him two more times for $40,000 and $50,000.

There were no takers in those races, giving Schiappa and Monteleone a chance at a third consecutive win in the Starter Sprint Handicap. They won the race with Rio Oro in 2001 and Giovannetti last year.

"All along we've had this race in mind," Monteleone said.

The only change in the program since July was Schiappa adding Terry Lanni as a partner when Love that Lion was claimed for $25,000 on Sept. 1.

Love that Lion drew the rail, which should not be a problem, since he shows ample speed and will be ridden by a superb gate rider, Patrick Valenzuela.

"We know he'll be going," Monteleone said.

The race is restricted to horses who have started for $32,000 or less in 2003.

Love that Lion's biggest threat is Forward March, who had an outstanding Del Mar for trainer Barry Abrams. He won an optional claimer for statebreds, a $50,000 claimer against open company and finished second by a nose in a first-condition allowance race against open company.

Forward March is eligible for the Starter Sprint because he started in a $25,000 claimer at Hollywood Park in June, a race he won.

Tyler Baze rides Forward March, replacing Valenzuela, who was aboard for the ridgling's last five starts.

The opening race on the program is the $50,000 Starter Handicap over 1 1/2 miles on turf, restricted to horses who have started for $40,000 or less this year. The race drew eight entrants, including Fade to Blue, who was second by a neck in the 2002 running.

Winless in 10 starts this year, Fade to Blue finished second by a nose in a $35,000 claimer at Saratoga on Aug. 30, but was only sixth in a starter allowance race at Fairplex Park on Sept. 28.

The marathon distance should suit First Insight and the longshot Golden Bonus.

First Insight was third in an optional claimer against open company over 1 1/4 miles on Oct. 13, the longest race of his career. Trained by Dan Hendricks, First Insight led at the eighth-pole but was beaten 1 1/4 lengths.

Golden Bonus was racing for as little as $8,000 at Hollywood Park this summer, but has been second in his last four consecutive starts. On Oct. 18, Golden Bonus was second by a neck in a starter allowance over 1 1/4 miles on turf, leading by four lengths in early stretch before losing by a neck to Superiority.

Another threat is Anziyan Royalty, who has not been worse than third in three starts this year.