02/06/2004 12:00AM

'Strings' fits against stakes colts

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ALBANY, Calif. - Seven colts under consideration for next month's Grade 3, $200,000 El Camino Real will get a big test Sunday in the $75,000-added Golden State Mile at Golden Gate Fields.

The test comes in the form of a filly, Bending Strings, who has drawn the rail against her seven male rivals in the one-mile race.

"It's not a very orthodox thing to do, but I don't have any other option," said Jerry Hollendorfer, the trainer of Bending Strings.

"They've ruined the stakes program in California. There's nowhere to run unless you want to go in a Grade 1 or go 6 1/2 on the turf at Santa Anita."

Most observers agree this year's crop of 3-year-old fillies in northern California is much stronger than their male counterparts.

Hollendorfer, who also nominated the stakes-winning filly Wildwood Flower to the Golden State Mile, has said he believes Bending Strings is his best 3-year-old.

"We have some plans for her," said Hollendorfer, who has twice won the Kentucky Oaks, with Lite Light and Pike Place Dancer.

Bending Strings lost to stakes-winning stablemate Heavenly Humor in her debut. She then scored two impressive victories before running in the Grade 2 Santa Ynez at Santa Anita, finishing a distant fourth in the seven-furlong race after racing very wide.

This will be the first try around two turns for Bending Springs, and she will be meeting some proven routers.

Kilgowan, who has two straight victories at the distance, has shown improvement in all three of his races and is the main threat with his off-the-pace style.

O.K. Mikie began his career in the bottom maiden $12,500 claiming ranks, but was second to Skipaslew in the Grade 3 Golden Gate Derby last month after finishing third behind him in the Gold Rush Stakes.

Skipaslew's stablemate Gold Bankers Gold is another who has improved as the distance has increased.

He, too, graduated for a $12,500 claiming tag, at Calder last summer, and was second in a strong race behind Spellbinder and ahead of odds-on favorite Dwango in his first start for trainer Doug O'Neill on Jan. 23 at Santa Anita.

"He's a nice horse," O'Neill said. "My brother Dennis helped purchase him. He's not overly good to look at, but he's getting good. As soon as they stretched him out on dirt, he started getting good."