02/25/2004 12:00AM

Tag snugly fits 'Da Bomb'

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ARCADIA, Calif. - In the last two years, Eric Da Bomb has sent trainer Nick Hines to the winner's circle following a 13-length victory at Del Mar and to the hospital after he was kicked during morning training at Hollywood Park last summer.

Hines has also watched go to the sidelines with injuries and make a comeback during the current Santa Anita meeting. Friday, Eric Da Bomb makes his third start of the meeting in a $52,000 optional claimer for California-breds.

Run over a mile, the race could end a four-race losing streak for Eric Da Bomb, dating back to the 13-length win in August 2002.

Eric Da Bomb is entered to be claimed for $40,000 in a race that drew eight entrants and includes Swordfish, who was third in a sprint for California-breds; and Timely Jeff, the winner of a maiden race for California-breds on Feb. 5.

Hines insists that the $40,000 level fits Eric Da Bomb at this point.

"He is where he belongs," he said. "Hopefully we can instill some confidence. If he were to get claimed, my clients would get their money back - from the vacation, the surgeries.

"In this spot, we'll have to run to win. He underwent surgery, and he had some soft tissue problems that I care not to mention. There are some issues under the hood."

Owned by a partnership that includes Class Racing Stable, Eric Da Bomb finished eighth in a $62,500 claimer on the hillside turf course on Dec. 27, the gelding's first start in a year. Hines said that Eric Da Bomb was not comfortable on that turf course.

On Jan. 24, Eric Da Bomb finished third in an optional claimer for California-breds over 1 1/16 miles. He led to the eighth pole and was beaten three lengths.

"We're trying to get him back to that form at Del Mar when he won that race," Hines said. "When you get him right, he'll really give you a big performance."

Hines said that Eric Da Bomb makes it clear when he is not well. When he was kicked last summer, Hines said "there were things that were bothering him that I couldn't see."

Hines said his leg was not broken - he was struck in the hamstring - and that he still has a scar.

"I was in major pain," he said. "My whole leg was black and blue for a month. Thankfully, nothing was broken. He's tough, but there is a fine line between him being sharp and sour."