05/05/2004 11:00PM

Ship-in Arabic Song tough in Yerba Buena

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SAN MATEO, Calif. - Northern California stakes races, particularly graded races, are often filled with runners from Southern California, but that didn't happen with Saturday's Grade 3 $125,000 Yerba Buena Breeders' Cup Handicap at Bay Meadows.

Only Arabic Song is venturing north from Southern California for the 1 1/8-mile race over the turf.

Arabic Song has been keeping the best company and will be tough to beat Saturday in her second start of the year and second start since last August.

She has the best last-race Beyer for her effort in the Grade 2 Santa Ana when she finished fourth but was moved up to third after being cut off by original winner, Megahertz, at the top of the lane.

She is also the only member of the field with experience at 1 1/8 miles, with a second and third in three starts at the distance.

Arabic Song figures to sit behind Hippogator, A B Noodle, and Marwood here and get first run on both Hooked on Niners and Sister Mary Hugh.

The question of a horse's ability to handle distance always surfaces in May in regard to the Kentucky Derby, and with most of the Yerba Buena entrants coming off 1 1/16-mile races, the extra sixteenth of a mile could be a factor.

"It depends on the horse," said Arabic Song's trainer, Neil Drysdale.

Bill Morey Jr., who trains late-running Hooked on Niners, isn't sure if the added distance will really help his mare's chances.

"On form, it looks that way," he said. "I'm happy to get Russell [Baze] in the saddle. If anyone can get her there, he can."

Trainer Jerry Hollendorfer will saddle Hippogator and Marwood, who finished one-two in the 1 1/16-mile Miss America on opening weekend. Hippogator set sensible fractions that day but may get more of a challenge early from A B Noodle here.

"I think it is a problem for some horses," Hollendorfer said of running 1 1/8 miles. "I don't think it will affect Marwood, and we'll see if Hippogator can do it. We're asking her to go more distance against better competition."

Hollendorfer expects a big effort from Marwood, who has never failed to pick up a check since disappointing in her debut last November.

Marwood was bred by John Franks and Franks, Hollendorfer said, "was pretty astute at breeding horses. He bred speed and endurance into them."