09/15/2003 12:00AM

Sharp 'Garlic' takes another step up ladder


SAN MATEO, Calif. - Handicappers face a familiar dilemma in Wednesday's feature race at Bay Meadows. Should they base their selection on class or current form in the $20,000 claimer at six furlongs?

The answer could be both with Goodnews Bay, a 4-year-old gelding who ran in the California Derby last year. He could be the speed of the speed, breaking from just outside his primary pace rival, Super Streak, in the field of five.

Goodnews Bay sharp, with a pair of thirds against better company preceding a confidence-building wire-to-wire victory at the $16,000 level in his last start.

But not to be overlooked is Garlic Country, who has won two straight, four of his past five, and six of eight starts this year.

Garlic Country opened the year with a victory in an $8,000 maiden claimer. He beat winners for a $6,250 tag in his next start, then was claimed when third, beaten less than a length, for $6,250 by trainer John F. Martin.

Garlic Country won his first start for Martin at the $5,000 level at Stockton. The 4-year-old gelding then won and was claimed for $6,250 from his next start at Pleasanton.

Martin then made an unusual move for him, re-claiming Garlic Country for a higher tag - $8,000 - at the Solano Fair.

"We wanted him back for the fairs," said Martin, who re-claimed Garlic Country for Rick Robey's Fatman Stables.

Garlic Country has since won for an $8,000 tag and again for $12,500, making him 4 for 4 in Martin's barn. Both victories were by eight lengths, and they earned Beyers of 91 and 90, respectively.

Martin is a high-percentage trainer, and you don't win 29 percent of your starts by placing horses where they won't be competitive.

"We knew we'd probably be looking at a small field," Martin said. "He's won his last races so easy, we thought this was a good time to give him a try at this level. He's run really big and deserves the opportunity."

Big efforts, back to back

Two Southern California-based, foreign-bred 3-year-olds running in back-to-back races Saturday gave hints of bright futures.

Menuhin, a British-bred son of Royal Academy trained by Wally Dollase, was a five-length winner in a one-mile allowance race in a sparkling 1:34.33.

One race later, French-bred Cellamare, trained by Frank Monteleone, won the $60,850 Carmel Handicap at 1 1/16 miles on the turf in her second U.S. start.

Dollase, in Kentucky at a horse sale, was able to watch Menuhin's victory. The colt was in good position early along the rail but was shuffled back a bit as early pacesetter Stormy Zone called it quits around the turn.

Jockey Frank Alvarado sat patiently, then took Menuhin through an opening along the rail to beat even-money favorite T S Eliot and 8-5 second choice Tizawinner.

"We were excited," Dollase said. "He's really a good-looking horse, but he's had some quirks about American racing. He's finally getting it all together."

Dollase said that Menuhin, a $100,272 purchase as a yearling, was brought to America because he reminded Dollase of Mananan McLir, a stakes winner he trained. Both horses are by the sire Royal Academy.

Monteleone said French bloodstock agent Hubert Guy first offered him Cellamare as a 2-year-old.

She was offered again to Monteleone after a June allowance victory, and Bernie Schiappa and Terry Lanni purchased her and turned her over to Monteleone. Schiappa, a friend of New York Yankees manager Joe Torre, got Torre involved in the sale as well.

Cellamare sat well behind Hippogator's honest pace, swung wide nearing the quarter pole to avoid congestion, and flew past Hippogator and Frisco Belle, who took the lead between calls, to win by one length.

Monteleone blamed himself for Cellamare's loss in the Grade 2 San Clemente in her American debut.

"She wasn't ready," he said. "She had only been here eight days and was very thin. We ran hoping to get lucky, but since then she's blossomed.

"I was worried about the 1 1/16-mile distance, but she looks as if she'll go on."