05/19/2004 11:00PM

Saratoga a brain-buster

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SAN MATEO, Calif. - Two huge questions surround Saturday's running of the $55,000-added Saratoga Handicap at Bay Meadows.

The six-furlong race drew a field of nine, including the streaking 4-year-old filly Christmas Time and the venerable 7-year-old gelding El Dorado Shooter.

The questions concern those two.

Is El Dorado Shooter ready to fire after stopping badly in his first two starts this year?

Is Christmas Time weighted too high and will she scratch?

El Dorado Shooter and My Captain both will carry 117 pounds. Christmas Time was assigned 114, but that equates to 119 on the scale, considering the normal five-pound allowance given to fillies when they run against males at this time of year.

If the El Dorado Shooter of old shows up, he should be able to dominate like he did in his last win, which came here in the Bay Meadows Breeders' Cup Sprint last June.

If the El Dorado Shooter of late shows up, the race is going to be wide open, with Christmas Time and My Captain - who figure to be sitting behind El Dorado Shooter early - legitimate contenders, along with R. Baggio and Debonair Joe, who will be making late runs.

Christmas Time's trainer, Jerry Hollendorfer, said he might scratch his filly, who won the Soviet Problem and Woodside handicaps in her last two starts. He doesn't like the weights in the Saratoga, but his alternative is the Grade 3 Desert Stormer June 5 at Hollywood Park.

"I don't want to do that," he said. "The competition there will be strong."

Ema Bovary, on a nine-race win streak, is pointing to that race.

"This is not an easy race, but it's not going to be any tougher than that graded race," Hollendorfer added.

Hollendorfer is philosophical about the weight assignments. "I'm taking the worst of it," he said. "If the others carried more, it might be better."

Ron Warren will ride Christmas Time because Russell Baze, who rode her in her last two stakes wins, will ride My Captain.

Trainer Art Sherman was disappointed that My Captain drew the rail, but he is confident My Captain can improve off his fourth-place finish in the Danville Handicap last out. That race came off a three-month freshener.

"He didn't have a real good trip," Sherman said. "I was a little disappointed, but it was bad racing luck."

Trainer Eric Kruljac, who has sent a string of horses to northern California for the fair circuit, has entered R. Baggio in the Saratoga. R. Baggio, Kruljac said, has been doing well since running second in the Phoenix Gold Cup at Turf Paradise.