12/28/2001 12:00AM

Sutter Stakes a doozy

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ALBANY, Calif. - With the final stakes race of 2001, Golden Gate has almost saved the best for last.

Sunday's $55,000 six-furlong Sutter Stakes for 2-year-olds doesn't measure up, of course, to many of 2001's races in terms of purse or prestige. But it is certainly as intriguing a stakes race as any run here this year.

The field of six is brimming with potential. Arsen and Steady Rollin both won their debuts. Avenue of Siam ran third as the favorite in his comeback. Mighty David makes his California debut after winning 4 of 8 in Florida. Goodnews Bay is a threat to go wire to wire. Undefeated Fertile, a talented filly who has not run since winning Hollywood Park's Nursery Stakes on May 19, rounds out the field.

Goodnews Bay could be the one to catch after leading Twentythreejaybird through a 21.53-second opening quarter and being only a head behind after a 43.94 opening half in a Nov. 11 allowance race.

Goodnews Bay will run Sunday for Jamey Thomas, a third generation trainer, whose late grandfather, Amos Thomas, was one of the first African-American trainers in California.

Goodnews Bay is owned by Carl Odegaard, whose first horse was Hoovergetthekeys, winner of the Golden Gate Derby and El Camino Real Derby here this year.

Goodnews Bay was trained by Brian Koriner, who is currently awaiting a hearing with the California Horse Racing Board over a medication issue. No date has been set. Koriner was suspended on Dec. 13.

Goodnews Bay was scratched from a Dec. 16 race because of Koriner's suspension. Koriner asked Thomas to take over his horses. "We've grown up together on the racetrack," said Thomas of Koriner. "He's given me a great opportunity. It could be a win-win situation if I do well," said Thomas, who saddled King Vic, another horse formerly trained by Koriner, for a victory Wednesday.

"These are his horses. He said, 'You can show what you can do with good horses.' I'm fortunate Brian recommended me to some of his owners. I have to step up and show I can do the job with nice horses. It's always easier when someone tells you a horse's quirks when you get him."

Thomas is excited about Goodnews Bay's chances despite the tough field and the fact the race will be run on an off track.

"He's on his game," Thomas said. "The horse breezed over an off track, and [jockey Adalberto] Lopez said he liked it."