07/09/2006 11:00PM

Stone Rain looking like a sound investment


There was a method to the seeming madness when trainer Billy Morey claimed Stone Rain for $80,000 at Golden Gate Fields on March 10. A 5-year-old gelding, Stone Rain finished fourth behind comebacking Spanish Chestnut that day.

"It raised a lot of eyebrows when we first took him," Morey said. "I was content with $80,000. We put a partnership together with four of us involved so that someone wouldn't be sticking his neck out for $80,000."

The claim looks a lot better after Stone Rain's easy victory in the $51,200 Sam J. Whiting Handicap at the Alameda County Fair in Pleasanton on Saturday.

Although Stone Rain is a genuine speedball, Morey tried him around two turns in his first start. Stone Rain grabbed the lead, as expected, and, perhaps no surprise, faded in the lane to finish fifth.

"Maybe it wasn't the right thing, but it turned into four wins sprinting," Morey said. "If I had it to do all over again, I wouldn't do a thing differently. This was our intention when we claimed him. We hoped he'd be good enough for the stakes on the fair circuit."

He certainly was in the Whiting, beating the late-running Old Man River by five lengths in 1:08.17 for six furlongs. He quickly dusted the other speed in the race and had things his own way.

"He does whatever he has to do to lead," Morey said. "It's clear he's really, really good right now. I think he's as good as he's ever been."

As good as Stone Rain is, Morey is not shooting too high. He now will point him to the Ernest Finley, also at six furlongs, at Santa Rosa on July 30. He said that despite the victory, he had no real interest in sending Stone Rain to Del Mar for the Bing Crosby on July 30.

"I'm not having him go run in a Grade 1 or meet horses like Carthage or Lost in the Fog," Morey said. "They can have all the Grade 1's they want."

Jet West headed for Del Mar

The favored Jet West ran fifth in the Whiting in his first start since a third-place finish in the Golden Shaheen in Dubai, and owner Bruce Hochman said that Jet West would likely make his next start in the Bing Crosby at Del Mar. Before the Whiting, trainer Ted West said he was using the race as a prep for the Crosby.

"Ted said if he came out of the race fine, we'd probably run in the Crosby," Hochman said. "We came up here to someone else's home court. Look at the final time. They just never slowed down. He didn't really have a chance."

Variety of stakes in meet finale

Pleasanton's closing-day card on Sunday included three stakes: one for mules, one for mixed breeds, one for Thoroughbreds.

Sharp Writer turned in an impressive victory in the Alamedan Handicap, winning for the first time on the dirt. His trainer, Jerry Hollendorfer, said he was using the race as a prep for the $100,000 Joseph T. Grace on the turf at Santa Rosa.

The race was filled with stakes types and seemed paceless going in. But it looked like a sprint for six furlongs as Megabyte and Now Victory alternated on the lead through fractions of 22.28 seconds, 44.59 and 1:10.04. Russell Baze wisely took back on Sharp Writer, sitting last, and began to make his move at the quarter pole. Megabyte faded to last, but Now Victory held on for third in a very impressive performance.

Earlier, Smoking Joe beat Sarah Nelson in the $10,280 Pleasanton Mule Championship at 400 yards. The two tower above their rivals as Black Ruby and Taz did in the past.

Under jockey Danny Boag, who was Taz's regular rider, Smoking Joe took the lead and held on to win by a nose as the two finished 4 3/4 lengths in front of perennial third-place finisher Sis-Q Mayten.

"He runs straight, like a good horse," said Boag, who no longer rides mules, except for Smoking Joe. "That's why I came back to ride him. He'll run six or seven times during the summer, and you always have a chance to win on him."

The win was Smoking Joe's second straight against Sarah Nelson after losing twice to her in Winnemucca to start the year.

In the Jack Robinson Memorial, the Thoroughbred Easy Swinger won his second mixed-breed 870-yard race of the year. He has finished second in two others.

Rollins recuperating

Chance Rollins, badly injured in a spill at Bay Meadows that nearly cost him his life, made several visits to the track at Pleasanton to watch stakes races and several horses he has ridden. He will continue therapy and while he recovers will serve as the assistant for his wife and agent, Paige Schvaneveldt.

She will begin booking mounts for her former brother-in-law, jockey Chad Schvaneveldt, who had to be hospitalized with recurrence of pancreatitis the second week of the Pleasanton meeting.