02/03/2005 1:00AM

Skip and Go likely favored vs. tough bunch

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To give you an idea how tough Sunland's $53,200 Curribot Handicap has come up, the field of eight has combined for 50 victories. There are at least two Southern California transplants who once competed with graded stakes company, and the hottest horse in the race, having won 3 of his last 4, might not even be one of the first two wagering choices.

Saturday's 1 1/16-mile Curribot, for 3-year-olds and upward, is loaded with options for bettors.

Favoritism figures to fall to Skip and Go, co-highweight at 120 pounds. Trained by Ramon Gonzalez, he got a vacation in the late summer and early fall, then came back with a pair of mediocre outings. Gonzalez then reapplied blinkers, and Skip and Go responded with a strong allowance run going a mile here on Dec. 7, finishing second by a neck.

He moved forward with possibly the best race of his life, beating top runner Two Down Automatic and multiple stakes winner Beyond Brilliant in the Jan. 8 Winsham Lad Handicap here. He pressed the pace, took over in the lane, and drew off, earning a Beyer Speed Figure of 96. A repeat of that will be tough for his competitors to counter. Ken Tohill rides.

Also tabbed at 120 pounds is Socko, who resurfaces after five months on the bench. Trained by Gary Cross, he won The Downs at Albuquerque Handicap and Ruidoso Mile last summer before finishing fourth as the favorite in the Ruidoso Thoroughbred Championship when last seen Sept. 6. His best can certainly win this, though the layoff is a hurdle. Alex Jiminez rides.

Pleasant Bend (119 pounds) and Don't Strike Out (118 pounds) come here sharp. Pleasant Bend has been freshened off a nice allowance win here on Dec. 14. Trained by Carl Dyer, he has won 2 of his last 3, and 3 of his 4 career wins have come here. Don't Strike Out rallied gamely to beat some of these in a tough optional claimer here on Jan. 23. Trained by Ray Carlisle Jr., he packs a strong punch in the lane.

Butte City, a well-traveled veteran who has usually stuck to the claiming ranks, comes here sharp as a tack, having won 3 of his last 4. He steps up in class, but when he won a Dec. 12 claimer here he beat Don't Strike Out, so he can certainly run with these. Trained by Leroy Fincher, he will carry 117 pounds.

Back-class fans will take note of Fin Entertainment and Bayou the Moon. While not what they once were, they once traveled with some elite company, as both tried graded stakes foes in Southern California in their heydays.