04/17/2006 12:00AM

Rider gets a winner right out of the gate

Vassar Photography
Melissa Stortz gets her first victory on her first mount, with Blue Max at Golden Gate on Sunday, a seven-length win.

ALBANY, Calif. - Apprentice Melissa Stortz scored a victory Sunday in her first race as a jockey, guiding Blue Max to a seven-length victory in an $8,000 maiden claimer at five furlongs.

Stortz, a 27-year-old from Maryland, has been working as an exercise rider for several years. Mark Hanna, the trainer of Blue Max, said he wanted to put Stortz on Blue Max, and owners Paul Girdner and Reginald Jones agreed.

"I wanted to give her a chance on a live horse," said Hanna, who also helped get leading rider Martin Garcia started. "Jones and Girdner okayed it. Not too many owners would give a woman a chance on a contender in her first ride, but she's been working this horse, and I think they're more excited than she is.

"She's a great kid and has good hands. Horses love her. Everybody deserves a chance."

Stortz said she didn't have any trouble during the race.

"Mark said to try to get a decent break, because he didn't break that well last time," she said. "He got out of there pretty quick. I just let the horse run his race. I was just along for the ride."

Stortz looked like a veteran during the race, letting the favorite, Rooster, and jockey David Lopez open up on Blue Max and then easing Blue Max outside of Rooster and moving to him on the turn. Stortz said she began to feel good when Lopez began to whip Rooster.

Stortz watches race-replay films with racing official Paul Nicolo every day, "and he says when you see two horses running together, whoever takes his stick out first usually loses," Stortz said.

Stortz's older sister Marcia rode for two years before knee injuries forced her retirement. Marcia also got her first victory at Golden Gate Fields, in 2003 aboard her seventh mount.

Marcia, currently working toward an elementary-school teaching credential at San Jose State, was at the track cheering on her sister and confessed to placing $10 across the board on Blue Max.

Stortz was originally scheduled to ride Behold Amadeus in the race but said stewards didn't want a first-time rider aboard a first-time starter. Behold Amadeus fell during the race when Bucks Hidden Asset dropped over on the turn and Behold Amadeus clipped his heels. Behold Amadeus's jockey, Adan Landeros, suffered a bruised shoulder.

Stortz picked up Landeros's mount, Thisonesformysis, in the next race. Marcia Stortz said she had to play a hunch bet on her sister, but Thisonesformysis finished last.

Leading rider faces decision

Apprentice jockey Martin Garcia, the leading rider at Golden Gate Fields, has swept to the top of the jockey standings in only his third full meet. With the meet ending on May 6, Garcia has a 95-77 lead over perennial leader Russell Baze. Now he has to decide if he wants to leave for the bigger purses and better horses of Southern California.

Earlier during the meeting, Garcia said he planned to go to Southern California for the Hollywood Park meeting, which opens April 26. Now he has backed off a specific timetable.

"When I feel ready to go, I will," he said. "I haven't made a decision yet."

Garcia's agent, Roger Olguin, will go south with him. The pair has made a great combination in northern California with the young apprentice's uncanny, beyond-his-years skills and Olguin's easy-going style.

Olguin hints that the decision to move south will come when he and Garcia feel they have wrapped up the Golden Gate Fields riding title.

"It's important to win," Olguin said.

It will also be important to head south for the start of the Hollywood Park meeting so that Garcia can take full advantage of his five-pound weight allowance and be available when leading riders leave Southern California for Kentucky Derby and Preakness mounts.

Hollendorfer still talking Derby

Trainer Jerry Hollendorfer is still discussing Cause to Believe's possible Kentucky Derby status with owners Peter Redekop and Peter Abruzzo. It probably didn't hurt when Sinister Minister, who lost to Cause to Believe in the California Derby, won the Blue Grass Stakes over the weekend.

Hollendorfer had Cause to Believe work an easy 49.37-second half-mile over a sloppy track before Sunday's races. The Hollendorfer-trained Adreamisborn worked 59.49 for five furlongs as he continued preparations for the Aug. 29 San Francisco Breeders' Cup Mile.

Cause to Believe, never much of a worker, went his opening quarter-mile in a pedestrian 25.42 seconds but picked up the pace with a 37.44-second three-furlong clocking. He went the third furlong in 12.02 seconds and final furlong in 11.93.

Adreamisborn's fractions were 24.01 and 47.79.

Lost in the Fog sizzles in work

Lost in the Fog completed preparations for next Saturday's $100,000 Golden Gate Fields Sprint with a blazing 57-second five-furlong work on Saturday that was more than two seconds faster than the next-best work of 39 at the distance.

It was his final drill before his 2006 debut, and trainer Greg Gilchrist wanted the 4-year-old colt to work fast. He had him work in company and planned to have Lost in the Fog start five lengths behind his unidentified workmate. Instead, Lost in the Fog started eight to 10 lengths back.

Entries will be taken Wednesday for the Golden Gate Fields Sprint, with Carthage, who has won the Fairfax Stakes and San Carlos Handicap in his past two starts, and Elegant Ice the only other confirmed starters. Another possible starter, multiple stakes winner Halo Cat, died last week after a bout with colitis.

Golden Gate Fields will give away Lost in the Fog bobblehead dolls Saturday.

* Responding to requests from trainers, Golden Gate's racing secretary has scheduled a two-furlong 2-year-old maiden race for Wednesday. Nineeleven, who won 2 of 13 starts, sired three of the seven runners entered, while multiple Grade 3 winner For Really sired two.