07/08/2004 11:00PM

Surprise Halo out to repeat

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PLEASANTON, Calif. - Defending champion Surprise Halo will try to repeat in the Alamedan Handicap on Sunday's closing day at the Alameda County Fair, but he must beat a strong trio from the barn of northern California's leading trainer, Jerry Hollendorfer.

Surprise Halo drew post 3 in the 1 1/16-mile Alamedan, a $50,000 race that drew nine entrants. Hollendorfer trainees Gold Ruckus, Adreamisborn, and Cappuchino drew posts 1, 6, and 9.

Surprise Halo has won both his starts here: a $20,000 claimer in 2001 and the Alamedan last year.

"Probably his best race ever came here," said trainer Dennis Ward, referring to the $20,000 claimer. "He got left in the gate, and I was so disgusted I started to walk away. I got to the end of the grandstand, and I heard the announcer say, 'Here comes Surprise Halo.' I looked up, and he was taking the lead and won."

A 6-year-old gelding, Surprise Halo came from off the pace to win the Alamedan by a neck over World Light last year. But Surprise Halo is versatile and has run as well on the lead as he has coming from off the pace. That versatility helps on a track as speed-favoring as this one has been, although horses have begun to run better from off the pace.

Joe Castro rode Surprise Halo in his comeback May 1, when he was seventh behind Adreamisborn on the turf. He has finished third and second since. Castro rides Surprise Halo again Sunday.

Ward says Surprise Halo's works indicate he should run well on Sunday.

"He hadn't been working that fast, but his last couple he's gone 59 and 58 and done it on his own," Ward said. "When he starts doing that, he's ready to rock."

Surprise Halo will have to rock to beat Gold Ruckus and Adreamisborn.

After returning from a fractured shoulder last fall, Gold Ruckus won four straight and became graded stakes placed. He has missed only one paycheck in 10 starts and comes off a third in the Grade 2 San Francisco Breeders' Cup Handicap on the turf and a second in the Grade 3 Seabiscuit on the dirt.

Adreamisborn was second in his stakes debut last time out in the Foster City Handicap and returns to the main track after five straight strong races on the turf.