04/19/2004 11:00PM

Race shape gives 'Joe' upset shot

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SAN MATEO, Calif. - Yougottawanna may be the best horse stabled in northern California, but his assignment in the Bay Meadows feature on Thursday, an $80,000 optional claimer at 1 1/16 miles, is not an easy one.

Among Yougottawanna's rivals is Debonair Joe, a Grade 1 winner who should get a fast pace to set up his late kick.

Yougottawanna has produced triple-digit Beyer Speed Figures in his last two starts, an eight-length victory in the fastest 1 1/16-mile race at the recently concluded Golden Gate Fields meeting and a second-place finish in the Grade 3 Berkeley Handicap.

Yougottawanna, claimed by trainer John Martin for $50,000 from his fast 1 1/16-mile victory two back, was nominated to Saturday's Grade 2 San Francisco Breeders' Cup Mile on grass, but Martin opted to keep him on the main track.

He should be a heavy favorite Thursday and, with Sirpa in the field, may get his preferred stalking trip instead of having to set the pace, as he did in the Berkeley.

All four of his rivals - Sirpa, Boss Ego, Debonair Joe, and the comebacking Vallarta - have won stakes. Debonair Joe capped his 3-year-old season with a victory in the Grade 1 Malibu Stakes at Santa Anita in 2002.

Debonair Joe has not won since the Malibu. His trainer, Sergio Ledezma, who is off to a hot 4-for-10 start here after going 11 for 116 at Golden Gate Fields, thinks the 5-year-old gelding is near the top of his game.

Debonair Joe has been stakes-placed twice for Ledezma since moving to his barn last summer.

"He's run some big races, and he's working well," Ledezma said. "I'm just trying to get him a win."

Debonair Joe will race without blinkers Thursday after wearing them in his last four starts.

Ledezma tried Debonair Joe on turf in the Crystal Water Handicap at Santa Anita in his most recent start. Coming off a pair of a third-place finish to Jets Fan and Yougottawanna in a one-mile race and a third to Giovannetti in the Ken Maddy Sprint, Debonair Joe didn't take to the turf and finished last.

"I thought it was worth a shot to try in a Cal-bred stakes," Ledezma said.

Usually a late-running sprinter, Debonair Joe showed in his third-place finish to Jets Fan that he can get two turns, closing to within a length of the first two finishers.

With four rivals, all of whom have shown speed, Debonair Joe's off-the-pace style could receive a favorable setup.