05/23/2002 12:00AM

R McLennen lucks in, but faces tough crowd

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SAN MATEO, Calif. - With 24 horses entered and R McLennen listed 17th at 114 pounds, trainer Steve Specht was worried that R McLennen might not get into the $55,000-added Foster City Handicap on Saturday at Bay Meadows.

But R McLennen did get in, and now all Specht has to worry about is how to defeat millionaire Native Desert and eight other rivals in the 1 1/16-mile turf race.

Since moving to Specht's barn, R McLennen has finished second, beaten three-quarters of a length in a $16,000 claimer, then won three straight starts, the last two in allowance races.

"There's nothing special that I've done," Specht said. "The only thing I know for sure is they tried to send him earlier in his career. The only thing I've done is to tell the jock to take him back."

Specht said R McLennen, a 4-year-old gelding, was sore when he got him.

"He just came out of it," Specht said. "I've never had a problem with him."

The list of 24 nominees included Sarafan, who would have been the highweight at 123 pounds, and Native Desert, who has earned $1,703,386 and is eligible for the additional $16,500 offered to Cal-breds in the race.

Specht knows that meeting opponents such as Native Desert; Adminniestrator, who is coming off a stakes victory at Hollywood Park; and stakes-placed Kerrygold and Ninebanks is a tough assignment.

But if there was ever a time to ask a tough question of R McLennen, this is it.

"He's as good as he's ever been," Specht said. "Both times he won [allowance races over the Longden Turf Course], he really kicked it in the last quarter mile. Both fields were fairly solid. Last time, he had to rally between horses before he got clear."

All Specht is hoping for Saturday is a clean trip.

"We want to avoid losing too much ground," he said. "He may have to swing wide, but you hope you don't lose too much ground and don't get stopped."

Rocky start for apprentice rider

Apprentice jockey Juan Avila, 27, was scheduled to ride his career second mount in Wednesday's eighth race. But Avila didn't make it to the starting gate because he fell as the horse, Bubblegum Red, reared before they made it onto the track. The filly then rolled over Avila.

Avila suffered two fractured ribs on his left side and a small lung puncture and an undisplaced pelvic fracture on the left side. He will be sidelined for four weeks.

He was taken to San Mateo General Hospital, where he was scheduled to remain for two or three days. He was resting comfortably, listed in stable condition Thursday morning.

- Nancy Alberts, trainer of Preakness runner-up Magic Weisner, and Sergio Ledazma, who notched his first victory as a trainer with Irish Dumaani on Sunday, will be the guests on Sam Spear's "At The Track" radio show Saturday. The program airs from 7-8 a.m. on KNBR-680.

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