01/23/2003 12:00AM

Pocketfullofpesos has spoiled a new owner

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ARCADIA, Calif. - In the past six months, Sean Gerson has gone from being a prospective horse owner to a winner's circle veteran with a stakes-winning filly and a website promoting his stable.

Last summer, Gerson, the owner of six veterinary clinics for small animals in California, was ready to take the plunge into racehorse ownership. He hooked up with trainer Mike Mitchell, claimed his first horse at Del Mar, and in November paid $20,000 for a 50 percent share in a maiden claimer.

The maiden claimer, named Pocketfullofpesos, could yield a huge prize for Gerson, 34, and his partners - Phil Belmonte, Hank Cohen, Dave Gould, and Barry Shapiro - Saturday at Santa Anita in the $250,000 Sunshine Millions Oaks.

For Gerson, the turnaround of Pocketfullofpesos in the last few months is more than he ever could have imagined.

"One of the things that I tell all my friends is that the worst thing that could have happened is getting this horse," he said earlier this week. "I'm so spoiled."

Gerson had been involved with racing for several months when Pocketfullofpesos made her second career start for trainer Bob Baffert in a $40,000 claiming race for maidens at Hollywood Park on Nov. 9.

Mitchell considered her a prospective claim, but he knew he needed more than one owner to handle the purchase price.

"Sean made it happen," Mitchell said. "I had to find the other half. Belmonte has been with me for a long time. He made up the other half with his friends. Sean had never met Belmonte until this thing came along.

"I made up my mind in a second to claim her," Mitchell said. "She had a neat look about her. She ran on the fence the first time out and I thought she might have needed it. I was hoping to break her maiden and win a starter race with her."

Pocketfullofpesos won by six lengths the day she was claimed and scored by a similar margin in a starter allowance race at Hollywood Park on Dec. 7, her first start for her new owners.

At that point, the partnership nominated her for the fillies division of the $125,000 California Breeders' Champion Stakes at Santa Anita on Dec. 27, and decided to take a chance.

In a field of 10, Pocketfullofpesos was sent off at 9-1. Under a patient ride from Patrick Valenzuela, she stalked a fast pace to the eighth pole and pulled away with a wide rally to score by three lengths. The winner's share of the purse was $75,000, nearly double what the partnership had paid to claim her.

"I thought I was having a heart attack the last time we won," Gerson said.

In Saturday's Oaks, Pocketfullofpesos will face stronger opposition. The race is the part of the Sunshine Millions for California-breds and Florida-breds, and it brings together many fillies who have never run against each other.

Gerson has done plenty of handicapping in recent weeks, and understands the task Pocketfullofpesos faces. Still, he and the other owners will have as many as 40 friends with them, cheering on Pocketfullofpesos.

"Realistically, we're in very tough," he said. "I'm trying to talk myself into thinking that we beat anything but we didn't. I've been sitting on the Internet 24-7 checking out who these horses are and what they've beaten.

"I think we're the fourth-best horse in the race. We got lucky in the draw. We wanted outside. Humorous Lady is in the 2 hole. Ivanavinalot will be tough. Atlantic Ocean is the horse to beat."

Gerson's enthusiasm shows in the stable notes section of the website, Gersonracing.com, where he gives a frequent update on his horses and a first-hand account of his feelings as an owner.

Last summer, he had trouble convincing Mitchell that he was serious about getting involved in racing. A resident of Lake Forest, Calif., Gerson is no stranger to racing, His father, Chuck, had horses with trainer Ted West in the 1980's, mostly claiming stock.

Sean Gerson nearly claimed his first horse last winter, but changed his mind at the last minute, deciding to wait and learn more about the sport. By the summer, he was ready, and he convinced Mitchell to take him as a client.

The stable comprises mostly claiming horses, and is always looking to grow, Gerson said.

"It's in my blood," he said. "When my dad had horses with Ted West, I was a barn rat. We were at Clocker's Corner at Santa Anita and at Del Mar, watching them work.

"I've been going to the track since I was 8 or 9. The best way I can describe it is that I've been sitting on the rail of the paddock wondering what it would be like to get in. Now I know."