03/15/2008 12:00AM

Suicide pace sets up Bonfante

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SAN MATEO, Calif. - Bonfante sat in a perfect spot as Vicarino and Tribesman dueled each other into submission, then pulled away in the stretch to score an easy 4 1/2-length victory in the Grade 3, $125,000 Bay Meadows Sprint on Saturday.

Tribesman, who had won five straight, and Vicarino, coming off a track-record performance, went head-and-head from the instant the gate opened. Vicarino had his head in front at the half-mile pole through an opening quarter of 21.72 seconds.

Tribesman edged in front heading into the turn, but Vicarino did not give an inch and quickly pulled back to even terms. As they reached the quarter pole, Tribesman was a head in front, with eht hald going in 44.09.

Bonfante, who trailed by six lengths at the half-mile pole, began to cut into the margin on the turn. He shifted out three wide, and quickly blew past the pacesetters as the field turned for home. He was in full stride as he pulled clear, winning the six-furlong race in 1:09.39. He paid $15 to win in the four-horse field.

"It set up perfectly for us," winning jockey Frank Alvarado said. "He broke sharp and settled. I loved seeing those guys banging up front. At the three-eighths pole, he started to pick it up, and I knew the race was over."

Jack Hes Tops, last early, finished evenly to take second by a length over Vicarino, with Tribesman finishing last as the two front-runners staggered home.

Tribesman's rider, Chad Schvaneveldt, said the race lived up to his worst fears.

"I knew that was going to happen," he said. "I told my wife last night that Vicarino was going to go after us and we'd kill each other off, and Bonfante would win."

Bonfante's owner-breeder Lewis Figone said he was confident going into the race.

"I had a feeling he was going to win," he said. "People just don't believe in that horse. He's been a great horse."

The 8-year-old Cal-bred gelding by Fruition earned $60,000 for his 11th victory in 30 starts, increasing his career earnings to $636,121.