07/06/2003 11:00PM

Surprise Halo wins Alamedan Handicap


PLEASANTON, Calif. - Surprise Halo ($9), who has become a turf specialist, returned to the dirt Sunday and defeated comebacking World Light by a neck to win the $50,800 Alamedan Handicap on closing day at the Alameda County Fair.

Surprise Halo, making the ninth main-track start in his 30-race career, had suffered from bad luck earlier this year, finishing third behind Seinne in the $100,000 Tanforan Handicap at Golden Gate Fields and later missing by a nose to Ninebanks in the Grade 3 Golden Gate Breeders' Cup Handicap.

He sat in seventh behind Matter Of Honour's early pace, rallied four wide on the second turn and wore down World Light, who was making his first start since Nov. 10.

"We were kinda squeezed at the start, but, with his off-the-pace style, it didn't bother us," winning jockey Joey Castro said. "He handled the dirt fine. When I asked him to punch, he punched."

Owner Dennis Ward said Sunday's trouble was nothing compared with his only other start here, which resulted in a six-length victory.

"He fell coming out of the gate and was so far back, I started to walk away from the grandstand, but then he came back on," Ward said.

"He had a quarter crack this spring, but we got the foot back together. He probably needed his last race, but I knew he could run on the dirt. He's a much better horse now so we'll be looking at the Joseph Grace at Santa Rosa and maybe the Longacres Mile."

Surprise Halo won his 12th race in 30 starts. He earned $27,600 to lift his career earnings to $305,770.