01/03/2008 1:00AM

Stinson Beach sets up for closer


ALBANY, Calif. - Last year's Stinson Beach Stakes was a virtual walkover as Vicarino cantered home in front of Candy's Bro and the stakes winner Double Action. This year's race should prove much more competitive.

Six 3-year-old sprinters meet at six furlongs in the $50,000 Stinson Beach Stakes over the Tapeta surface at Golden Gate Fields on Saturday.

There is plenty of speed in the Stinson Beach, which means a runner from off the pace could have an advantage. Italian Rules set fractions of 44.76 for a half-mile and 1:08.84 for six furlongs in winning his only start, a maiden race at Hollywood Park on Nov. 30. He was given an 80 Beyer Speed Figure for winning that 6 1/2-furlong sprint.

Run Brother Ron might be even quicker than Italian Rules, and while Italian Rules has the rail, Run Brother Ron breaks from the outside post and can sit outside him. Ican'tremember has run sub-45-second half-mile fractions.

Pleasure Grounds could get first run on the leaders. He has won two straight here after running second for a $40,000 tag in his debut. He won a straight maiden race, then easily won a $40,000 starter allowance in his last start Dec. 13.

Saipan should be a bit behind Pleasure Grounds down the backstretch. He rallied from off the pace to win his debut and sat closer in his second start, when he finished third behind late-running Moonlit Master, whom he meets again in the Stinson Beach.

Saipan was bothered and forced to steady in the stretch of his last race by Thundering Justice, who was disqualified from second. Saipan lost momentum and couldn't match Moonlit Master, who was behind him at the time of the incident.

"I think he would have won," trainer Roger Hansen said. "I do think he will do well here. He relaxes well. I'd prefer to be farther outside, but he showed run from day one."

Moonlit Master has shown how tough he can be from off the pace, and he matched Italian Rules's 80 Beyer when he won his debut on Oct. 21.

Russell Baze, who is 2 for 2 on Moonlit Master, rides him again on Saturday.