01/27/2004 1:00AM

Surprized takes drop, gets setup

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ALBANY, Calif. - Palmeiro and Surprized will each take a class drop when they head a contentious field of six older runners in Thursday's feature at Golden Gate Fields, a $32,000 claimer at 1 1/16 miles.

Surprized, a 5-year-old gelding who had to have his name changed at age 2 after winning a stakes, has not won since his 2-year-old year, but he has more than paid his way, earning $215,245. He had 3 seconds and 4 thirds in 13 starts against better company last year and finished the year with three straight third-place finishes.

He lost to Vallarta on the turf before Vallarta won a stakes. He lost to stablemate Gold Ruckus before Gold Ruckus won a stakes, and he also lost in the mud to mud-loving Anstar. The runner-ups in each of those races - Tonco, Winning Stripes, and Yougottawanna - would each likely be favored in this spot.

Surprized weathered a controversy over his original name, Chingasos, late in his 2-year-old year when The Jockey Club was given a mistranslation of the word, erroneously perceived to be a Spanish vulgarity. Trainer and co-owner Jerry Hollendorfer and his partners renamed him - perhaps a bit tongue in cheek but with a bow to his sire, Prized.

He generally sits close to the pace, which should put him in a perfect spot, as Palmeiro, In Season, and Wild and Wise engage in what should be a contentious pace battle here.

Palmeiro, claimed Oct. 10 for $50,000 at Santa Anita, won the Grade 3 All American Handicap at Bay Meadows two years ago and was second in the Grade 3 Berkeley Handicap here last year.

He has been freshened since a disappointing turf debut, when he set the pace before fading badly behind Gold Ruckus, Club Forty One, and Tonco on Dec. 13.

Just like Surprized, he drops to his lowest level here and has been working well for his comeback. In his final work he was timed in 59.80 seconds for five furlongs, the second-best of 45 for the day. The outside post will allow jockey Russell Baze plenty of options, depending upon the tactics of In Season and Wild and Wise.

Wild and Wise just won at this level after sitting behind the early pacesetter. Surprized's stablemate In Season was second at this level after setting the pace on the turf but beat allowance types in a wire-to-wire effort in his previous start.

Johnny Show, Palmeiro's stablemate, won 8 of 15 starts in 2002 but was winless last year. He makes his first start in two months, and the closer will benefit if the pace gets too hot.