11/22/2004 1:00AM

Smoke Break back in sprint

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Benoit & Associates
Yougottawanna is the second highweight in Friday's Forty-Niner Handicap. He is assigned 118 pounds to the 119 given to his stablemate Adreamisborn.

ALBANY, Calif. - Wednesday's Thanksgiving-week opener at Golden Gate Fields includes a pair of $25,000 claiming sprints as an interesting set of co-features.

Three-year-old fillies meet in the seventh race, with Smoke Break seemingly the one to beat. A daughter of Smokester, Smoke Break has never won a stakes but was second in the Cinderella at Hollywood Park in her second career start. She also finished second in both the Mid Peninsula as a 2-year-old and the Miss California this year at Golden Gate.

Smoke Break was bred by Fernando Matos, brother of trainer Gil Matos, and owned by Fernando and two of Gil Matos's longtime clients, M.A. Douzos and Don Eidson. Smoke Break is not just another horse in the Matos stable.

Racing is a business, but sentiment plays a role, too, and Gil Matos has always been attached to Smoke Break since she came to him after failing to reach her reserve price in the Del Mar yearling sale.

Sentiment only goes so far, and even though he risked losing her, Matos ran Smoke Break for a $40,000 claiming price on Oct. 17 at Bay Meadows, then dropped her to $25,000 on Nov. 4, when she responded with a wire-to-wire victory at one mile.

She returns to the sprint game Wednesday, but the price is the same.

"Yes, it's tough to think we might lose her," Matos said, "but for most there comes a time when you have to be realistic. She definitely belongs in $25,000 company. She's no longer capable of competing against better. She's not physically the same filly she was."

Yummy Yummy may get the lead from her outside post here, but Smoke Break can be very effective from just off the pace, as she proved when she beat stakes winner Lyin Goddess and I'mbethtoo here in her first 2004 start.

In the first race, trainer Kent Molinaro has the "now" horse in Colonel Courtney, who has won four straight while climbing up the claiming ladder from the $6,250 level and being claimed three times.

Molinaro had Colonel Courtney, a 4-year-old gelding, when he began his streak, and claimed him back for $20,000 in his last start when he won a three-way shake.

"Demand outweighs supply right now," Molinaro said of reclaiming Colonel Courtney. "It's hard to find horses to claim that don't have a lot wrong with them. In this case, I know the horse, and I know his quirks. I don't know if he's gained confidence or simply the fact he's doing better. He's small and not a real attractive horse, but he's got a nice way of going, and another good thing is his style. He has speed and can take the lead but doesn't need it."

Colonel Courtney graduated in a straight maiden race and later won an allowance race in West Virginia.

Colonel Courtney will be tested for class by stakes-winning comebacker Texas Chili, who has 3 wins, 3 seconds, and 2 thirds over this track.

Bred, owned, and trained by Bill Morey Jr., Texas Chili is returning from an eight-month layoff. He ran third in the Danville Handicap here last year off a nine-month break.

The race leaves handicappers with the all-too-familiar quandary: current form or class.

While Molinaro agreed that class matters, "There's not a lot you can do about who you run against," he said. "You hope your current sharpness is enough and maybe the other isn't quite ready."

Frightening spill but injuries minor

Saturday's four-horse spill looked horrible, but, remarkably, injuries to the riders turned out to be minor.

The accident occurred in the second race when Izzy Tizzy broke his right ankle approaching the quarter pole and fell, causing a chain-reaction crash with three other horses.

Francisco Duran, Alfredo Miranda, and David Lopez were hospitalized, while the fourth rider, Iggy Puglisi, rode in the next race.

Miranda and Lopez were released Saturday night with minor concussions and bruises. Duran was kept in the hospital because of severe bruising caused when Sky Guy, the third horse to go down in the spill, fell on him.

The original diagnosis was that Duran had broken his collarbone, but further X-rays Sunday determined the bone was not broken.

Izzy Tizzy was euthanized, but Rippling Water, Sky Guy, and True Stride were uninjured except for some stitches Rippling Water needed on his chin.

Forty-Niner has seven set to go

Friday's $75,000-added Forty-Niner Handicap has seven of its 12 nominees listed to run, with several others considered likely. Two Jerry Hollendorfer trainees, Adreamisborn and Yougottawanna, are listed as the highweights at 119 and 118 pounds.

Also scheduled to run are Royal Place (117), Kristine's King (116), Californian (114), My Creed (114), and Oceanus (112).