09/03/2005 12:00AM

Speedy Bonfante tries mile

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SAN MATEO, Calif. - Bonfante is at the top of his game right now. He has won three straight sprint stakes on dirt, earning triple-digit Beyer Speed Figures in two of them and a 96 in his most recent victory, when he cruised to a four-length score in the Ernest Finley at Santa Rosa.

On Monday, he figures to be the one to catch in the $100,000 California Turf Championship at Bay Meadows at one mile over the turf. He is one of seven in the field of California-breds.

Though he's at his best sprinting on dirt, Bonfante has finished third and fourth in his two tries at one mile on the turf. He has also won one of his two sprints on the turf.

"I don't think the mile will be a problem, but I don't want to go any farther," said trainer Steve Specht.

Bonfante has always turned in consistent performances while matched against tough competition. He may offer some value here with the multiple stakes winner Running Free the probable favorite.

Running Free recently captured the 1 1/16-mile Harry F. Brubaker at Del Mar and earlier this year won the 1 1/8-mile Khaled Handicap at Hollywood Park. Distance is not a problem for Running Free, who also ran third in the 1 1/2-mile Quicken Tree at Hollywood Park, and he should be sitting comfortably behind the leaders down the backstretch, although in his last start he sat closer to the front than usual behind slow fractions.

Running Free defeated Bonfante when they met at this distance in a Santa Anita turf allowance race in April. Bonfante is probably better now. He does not need the lead, but his natural speed will probably find him in front in Monday's race.

"It all depends on the pace, but he's rateable," Specht said.

Shadow Raider comes off a wire-to-wire victory in an allowance race over the turf here. Charbonnier set the pace in the $100,000 Joseph Grace on the turf at Santa Rosa and was pressured all the way by a riderless horse.

First Rate Event, a beaten favorite behind Shadow Raider in his comeback, also has speed.

Hemet Thought and Running Free should be sitting behind the speed, with El Don ready to unleash a strong late kick.

* Bay Meadows will accept hurricane relief donations at a special Red Cross tent during the races Monday and will also make a contribution to the fund on its own.