03/01/2002 1:00AM

Snow Ridge lone speed


ARCADIA, Calif. - Snow Ridge is just plain lucky. Not so, counters trainer Wayne Lukas. "I think he's just a good horse," Lukas said.

How good is he? Good enough to win the first two stakes in Santa Anita's four-race sprint series, and good enough to be heavily favored Sunday in the Grade 1 San Carlos Handicap.

Sure, Snow Ridge is good. And, he is lucky. An upset win Jan. 1 in the Grade 3 El Conejo came at the expense of a favorite who emerged with a bruised foot. Snow Ridge got fortunate again Jan. 27, when he caught a wet track, which suited his pedigree, and rolled to a four-length win in the Grade 2 Palos Verdes.

Now comes the seven-furlong San Carlos, and front-runner Snow Ridge catches another break. There is not an ounce of speed to challenge him early. He and jockey Mike Smith figure to race gate to wire over six rivals who hope Snow Ridge does not stay the distance.

Seven-furlong specialist Ceeband will finish; trainer Bobby Frankel attempts a Mizzen Mast-like upset with turf-to-dirt Aldebaran; Stormy Jack, Grey Memo, and Hasty Kris run from behind; presser Alyzig appears outclassed.

Snow Ridge entered winter as just another horse. His pedigree, however, suggested better to come.

"Everyone expected Tabasco Cat to have precocious 2-year-olds, and he didn't," Lukas said. "But what we're finding is, given some maturity, these horses are nice horses."

Snow Ridge won the Kentucky Cup Sprint in fall, but did not emerge as a consistent, top-class sprinter until he turned 4. In fact, the facetious assertion that luck is the reason for his success fails to account for natural maturation. Snow Ridge, owned by Overbrook Farm, has won eight races and $467,699 from 17 starts.

Late-running Ceeband is compromised by pace. For the first time since summer, however, he is running under preferred conditions. "He's a seven-eighths horse, that's his optimal distance," trainer John Sadler said. "His best races last year were the [seven-furlong] Triple Bend and Pat O'Brien."

Ceeband has won 7 of 29 and earned $604,582. While Sadler admits a Feb. 25 work in 1:10.40 was faster than preferred, he said Ceeband enters in peak shape. Aldebaran, by Mr. Prospector, makes his first start since finishing third in the Hollywood Derby.

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