11/15/2006 12:00AM

Race will reveal where Stellar Magic fits

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SAN MATEO, Calif. - Friday night's Bay Meadows feature could be the defining moment of Stellar Magic's career. A 4-year-old gelding, he may be the longest shot among five horses in the race, a $62,500 optional claimer at one mile, but all trainer Brian Pitnick wants is a cleanly run race so that he can assess where Stellar Magic will fit in the future.

Once good enough to go off at 2-1 in last year's El Camino Real Derby, Stellar Magic's form has been compromised by surgeries on his ankles and knees, Pitnick said.

"It's a couple of surgeries later, and he may not be a stakes horse any more," said Pitnick. "I hope he'll be competitive at this level."

Stellar Magic hasn't won since capturing the $100,000 San Mateo Mile here in February 2005. He finished 10th in his next race, the El Camino Real Derby, and went on to lose his next six races.

Pitnick said he wonders if the losing streak can be attributed to injuries and bad luck, or if Stellar Magic was simply a precocious younger horse whose rivals caught up with him.

"You hate to make excuses," he said. "That's the worst trap you can fall in as a trainer. All kinds of horses show glimpses of greatness and then don't pan out for a variety of reasons."

Stellar Magic hasn't had the best racing luck. He was making a strong move in the El Camino Real Derby when he had to steady hard and lost all momentum. Following a seven-month layoff, Stellar Magic returned and made three starts before going to the sidelines again. He has run three times since, with excuses each time.

Stellar Magic's best recent effort came two starts ago, when he ran fourth in a one-mile optional claimer at Golden Gate. He ended up on the lead in that race, but Pitnick said he thinks Stellar Magic is better from off the pace. With speed horses Bobby Dazzler and Megabyte entered, Stellar Magic likely won't be inheriting the lead this time.

Other tough rivals include Attack Force and Six Numbers, who just beat Stellar Magic by 7o3/4 lengths in a six-furlong optional claimer. Six Numbers has been finishing strongly in sprints and will go for his third straight win.