03/15/2007 12:00AM

Stone Rain will be pushed

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SAN MATEO, Calif. - Stone Rain is one of the quickest sprinters in Northern California. He routinely runs his opening half-mile in less than 45 seconds, and he eclipsed 44 seconds in one win last year.

But he could be challenged early Saturday in his first start in nearly six months. He meets five rivals in a six-furlong optional $62,500 claimer at Bay Meadows.

Among them are the stakes winner Wind Water, who routinely turns in sub-45 half-miles, and Stone Rain's stablemate Colonel Courtney, who broke 45 seconds for a half-mile in his two most recent victories, which both came wire to wire.

Stone Rain, 6, was claimed for $80,000 by trainer Billy Morey one year and one week ago, and he has won five times since, including the Sam Whiting at Pleasanton last year. Morey expects Stone Rain to be on the lead Saturday from his outside post.

"He's pretty quick," Morey said. "Last year when he was going good, every time it looked like someone would challenge him early, but he always made the lead."

Although he has been on the sidelines, Stone Rain looks as if he is going well now. He has notched bullets in his past four works: two at six furlongs, one at five furlongs, and one at a half-mile.

"He's got a few bullets in the holster," said Morey, who said that several earlier races for Stone Rain didn't fill.

Wind Water, who won the California Cup Starter Sprint Handicap last October, was claimed for $62,500 when third in a Feb. 9 race at Santa Anita, and makes his debut for trainer John Sadler.

Colonel Courtney, who has 15 wins in 48 starts, is at the top of his game. He won a $40,000 claimer here last out by five lengths in his first start for Morey, who had claimed him for $32,000. Among his opponents in that race was Court's in Session, who is in Saturday's field.

"He impressed me last time," said Morey of Colonel Courtney. "I think Stone Rain and Wind Water are quicker early, so I think he'll have to stalk in this spot."

Shadow Raider, stakes-placed in the Grade 3 Bay Meadows Breeders' Cup Handicap, and McNasty round out the field.

* The Luck of the Irish, a $50,000 overnight handicap at 1 1/16 miles on the turf, will be run on Sunday with five entrants - Salty Humor, Dealer Choice, Courtly Jazz, True Dancer, and A Gallant Discover. It was originally scheduled for Saturday but didn't draw enough entrants.