01/17/2004 12:00AM

Sharp mare continues moving up

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ALBANY, Calif. - There aren't many sharper horses in northern California than Burning Brite, who may be the one to beat in a $25,000 claimer for fillies and mares at six furlongs Monday at Golden Gate Fields.

Burning Brite, a 5-year-old mare and a half-sister to Cal Cup winner Moscow Burning, has won two of her past three starts.

Those victories came for $6,250 and $8,000. She was third in her last start for $20,000 on Jan. 1 and moves up again for trainer Bill Delia and owner George Luna.

Burning Brite has seven rivals Monday, including Evil Lady, a winner of 8 of 17 starts, and Exclusive Molly, a solid second against similar last time.

"She had a little excuse last time," Delia said about Burning Brite. "She had a problem at the gate, got a little upset, and the rider had to get off. When they got her in, she was a little excited and was a little closer early than normal. She got the lead but didn't have her usual finish.

"We've been schooling her at the gate. She's on the improve, and we're trying to find the right spot."

Luna is a former jockey and still exercises horses. He is also a master craftsman who makes customized saddles used by exercise riders around the world. He is the only rider who exercises Burning Brite and hand walks her every day.

"I bought her off Dean Pederson," Luna said. "There was not a whole lot to like. The gallop boy said she was speed crazy, and she was hard to be around. The only thing I liked about her was that she was sound."

An unusual thing happened when Luna went to look at Burning Brite.

"She came right over and put her head on my shoulder," he said. "I remember working for Keith Stucki at Santa Anita, and he used to say that everyone is someone else's last chance."

Luna may have been Burning Brite's last chance. He took her away from the racetrack to a barn in the nearby Oakland Hills and "let her be a horse."

She needs lots of personal attention, which Luna gives her.

"If you do that kind of work, it has to pay off," Luna said.

* In Monday's feature, a $50,000 optional claimer for fillies and mares, recent sprint winners Our Mango and Bruneau Time stretch out to a mile and face Conquestress, who has won two of her past three and was the beaten favorite against similar on the turf.