09/07/2006 12:00AM

Santa Fe travels in search of third straight


ALBANY, Calif. - Santa Fe's wire-to-wire victory in his last start was impressive and looked like it was accomplished quite easily, but because Santa Fe was making his first start in seven weeks, trainer Matthew Chew was holding his breath most of the way.

Chew had told jockey Michael Baze he might be on a short horse, so "even though he was on the lead, I was agonizing the first seven-eighths of a mile."

Santa Fe won the race, an $80,000 claimer, by a length as Baze eased him around the Del Mar turf course with an open lead that allowed the 4-year-old colt to relax.

The Irish-bred Santa Fe will be looking for his third straight victory Saturday at Golden Gate Fields when he faces six rivals in the day's feature race, a $50,000 optional claiming race with second-level allowance conditions. The race has a purse of $34,500 and will be run at 1 1/16 miles.

The $50,000 Alameda Stakes had been scheduled for Saturday but was canceled when it attracted only three entrants.

Mister Acpen, runner-up in the Grade 1 Charlie Whittingham and winner of the Grade 3 Bay Meadows Breeders' Cup Handicap in 2003, is the lone runner in for the claiming tag.

Santa Fe, a $65,000 purchase at Newmarket last year, has won 2 of 4 U.S. starts, showing improvement in each race.

Chew said a friend, Vickie Saunders, tipped him about Santa Fe.

"She was the key to the whole thing," Chew said.

Santa Fe has minor problems and major talent. He is an athlete, and he does well on race day, but he needs time between races.

"I asked Vickie to take a look at the horses at the Newmarket sale," Chew said. "She talked to a number of people and got some good reports on him. He was supposed to be a graded-stakes type, but he had bleeding problems.

"When he came to the ring, we had been outbid on a number of horses to that point, but he was the one we had confidence in. Earlier in the day, we knew we had this horse coming up."

The $65,000 price was in the range Chew expected Santa Fe to bring, and owner Steve Dorfman was willing to go higher.

Although he wired his rivals last time, Santa Fe may be more comfortable in a stalking role. Mister Acpen appears the possible pacesetter on Saturday with Santa Fe parked nicely outside him.

Chew brings Michael Baze north with him. Baze has ridden Santa Fe in all four U.S. starts, and the two have developed a rapport that Chew likes.