10/21/2002 11:00PM

Patient approach pays with Attabrook

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SAN MATEO, Calif. - Trainer Lonnie Arterburn would be the first to tell you he may have made a mistake last winter by being too ambitious with Attabrook, who looms the one to beat when he meets older rivals for the first time in a six-furlong, $40,000 optional claimer Thursday at Bay Meadows.

Attabrook is 2 for 3 in his brief career. He made his debut last Dec. 13, winning a one-mile maiden race at Golden Gate Fields.

Running a 2-year-old at a mile in his debut is somewhat unusual, but Arterburn had good reason for taking the unorthodox approach. He thought Attabrook was better than Remember Sheikh, who won the 2000 El Camino Real Derby for Arterburn, and he thought Attabrook could win the 2002 El Camino Real.

"So I wanted to get him going a route of ground, Arterburn said. "I knew he was fast."

Attabrook won a three-way photo over Prime Time Event and Lookn at the Wire in a very impressive, albeit green, effort.

Had he lost, Attabrook would have had a variety of excuses to explain away the defeat.

"He didn't break good," Arterburn said. "He ran off with Russell [Baze] in a strong mid-race move. He ran very greenly in the stretch, jumping shadows."

But the gelded son of Montbrook showed some grit in the lane, also.

"When horses came to him, he dug in," Arterburn said.

Arterburn added that Attabrook also blew a front shoe and bruised a foot. Arterburn treated the foot and brought Attabrook back one month later at Santa Anita in a seven-furlong race. Attabrook wore a bar shoe and finished last.

"He just got sore," Arterburn said.

The El Camino dream faded, and Arterburn and his partners agreed the gelding's potential was so great that it made no sense to rush him, so they gave him plenty of time to heal and grow.

Attabrook was on the sidelines for more than eight months before he returned in a Sept. 25 sprint against 3-year-olds. He opened an immediate lead and increased his margin throughout as he won in 1:08.93.

Arterburn wasn't surprised by the time or by the ease of the victory.

"He'd been training really well, and he'd worked fast," Arterburn said.

Attabrook has had two works since his comeback, including a five-furlong bullet drill in 58 seconds. Although he meets older rivals, he is running at basically the same level.

"We're bringing him along a little more realistically," Arterburn said. "That's what went wrong the first time: We looked too far ahead. Now, we'll take it slowly."

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