08/30/2002 11:00PM

Rematch not to be

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SAN MATEO, Calif. - A rematch of Bay Meadows's race of the year in 2001 will not take place in Monday's $100,000 California Turf Championship.

The one-mile race for California-breds was expected to match millionaire Native Desert and Spinelessjellyfish, who dead-heated in the 2001 running.

Juan Garcia said Saturday that 9-year-old Native Desert, a three-time winner of the race, had injured an ankle during a Friday gallop.

"It was a little swollen," he said. "I don't want to take a chance."

The injury will prevent Native Desert from making his fifth straight appearance in the race and could make Spinelessjellyfish the favorite as he bids for his second straight Turf Championship.

Although winless this year, 6-year-old Spinelessjellyfish has turned in a series of strong performances.

He was beaten a nose by Hugh Hefner in the $139,000 Crystal Water at Santa Anita on March 24 and was third in the Grade 1 Shoemaker Breeders' Cup Handicap at Hollywood Park on May 27.

"He looks absolutely fantastic," trainer Jenine Sahadi said. "I thought his race in the Shoemaker was terrific."

Spinelessjellyfish earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 102 in the Shoemaker, only two points below his career best. He then finished far back in the 1 1/4-mile Charlie Whittingham Handicap but rebounded and recorded a Beyer Figure of 101 when he was a close fifth in the Wickerr Handicap at a mile on Aug. 2 at Del Mar.

"He's been a terrific horse," Sahadi said. "He's a horse that's part of the family."

That's true in more ways than one.

Spinelessjellyfish was owned in partnership by the late Bart Heller and Sahadi's brother, Steven, who purchased Heller's share at the Heller dispersal sale this spring.

"Steven really wanted him back," Sahadi said. "He's a gorgeous horse. I didn't want him to be in any other barn.

"I've had him since he was 2, except for when he had a stress fracture when he went back to the farm."

Spinelessjellyfish is a hard-working, consistent horse. He has won 9 of 29 starts and earned $581,453.

"He's a tough old Cal-bred," Sahadi said. "He tries every single solitary time. He grinds out money the hard way."

Sahadi is sorry that Native Desert is sidelined.

"I don't know if you'd call it a rivalry," she said of their many matchups. "Both, in the right scenario, can be very, very tough. Both are just one notch below Grade 1 company, but when you run these races here, you get an exciting race. Both are pros. They try every time."

With the injury to Native Desert, Spinelessjellyfish will be the race's highweight at 120 pounds, giving four to eight pounds to seven rivals.

Ninebanks, winner of the San Matean Handicap at 1 1/16 miles on the turf at the Bay Meadows Fair on Aug. 18, and Hoovergetthekeys, winner of the Alamedan Handicap at Pleasanton and second in the $100,000 Joseph T. Grace at Santa Rosa, were both given 116 pounds.

Sea to See, Suspicious Minds, Royal Irish, Surprise Halo, and Surprized round out the field.