01/08/2008 12:00AM

Sherman picks up the reins

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ALBANY, Calif. - Like the No. 1 assistant basketball coach who moves over one seat on the bench to become the head coach, Steve Sherman now has the title of trainer, not assistant.

He became a trainer on Jan. 1, and now runs his own barn instead of the Northern California stable of his father, Art Sherman.

"My dad talked to me about it," the 44-year-old Steve Sherman said. "He wants to focus on his horses in Los Angeles. He supported me and said, 'Go for it.'

"Nothing's different. All our owners were for it. That makes my job easier. They're all in my corner."

Nothing is different on the track, either. With Steve Sherman running the family stable here, the barn has ranked in the top three over the past three years, while winning at a high percentage.

The percentage remains high. Sherman has 3 wins and a pair of seconds from his first 10 starters, although he did go winless the first two days of the year.

Even before his father relocated down south on a more or less permanent basis, Steve Sherman handled half of the barn's expanded operation at Golden Gate Fields while his father handled the horses stabled at Bay Meadows.

"I'd like to say no, there's no difference, but I do feel added pressure," he said. "I think everything will go fine. We have owners that like to win. It's nice to have the flexibility that allows."

Cafe Tortoni takes Cal Derby prep

Several horses ran in a one-mile allowance race last Friday rather than in the six-furlong Stinson Beach Stakes on Saturday. The allowance was a prep for the California Derby at 1 1/16 miles on Jan. 27.

The decision proved wise for Cafe Tortoni, who won the one-mile race by a nose over favored Sassou.

Bryson Cooper, who helps train horses here for his father-in-law, Jim Penney, said he was pleased with the colt's effort under jockey Luis Contreras.

"I hope he'll ride him back in the Derby," Cooper said.

Contreras suffered a bruised right shoulder and concussion when Truckee Victory had a fatal breakdown on Sunday, but was unlikely to miss much time.

Foul claim taken in stride

Winning jockey Kyle Kaenel had no problem with the jockey's objection Chad Schvaneveldt lodged against him after Italian Rules defeated Pleasure Grounds in Saturday's Stinson Beach.

Italian Rules brushed with Pleasure Grounds three times through the stretch. Pleasure Grounds never seemed to break stride, and Schvaneveldt did not seem to stop riding.

The objection was rejected.

"Whatever it takes." Kaenel said. "Chad did his best to get a win. Sometimes with young horses like this, when they get brushed it does affect them. They're not used to it and don't shrug it off like older horses do."

Green Lite Honey out to leave rut

Green Lite Honey, the runner-up in all four starts at the $40,000 starter-allowance level since winning her debut, will try to end her string of seconds in a one-mile race against seven rivals in Thursday's Golden Gate Fields feature.

Five last-start maiden winners - Oh So Smooth, Melba Toast, Hawaiian Afleet, Ruby Haze, and Rathsallagh Bride - are also entered in the $40,000 starter allowance.

* Services were held Monday for John Horton, 63, a former trainer and longtime Northern California valet, who died Jan. 1.