07/29/2003 12:00AM

Taraval may be in good spot after all


SANTA ROSA, Calif. - Jim's Relaunch and Taraval were both entered for the same reason in Thursday's $40,000-added Ernest Finley Handicap at the Sonoma County Fair: In a field of five, they are assured of picking up a check.

John Wilkes, trainer of Jim's Relaunch, and Greg Gilchrist, trainer of Taraval, both say they have no other place to run.

Wilkes has no illusions about winning the six-furlong Ernest Finley.

"I'd been trying to get him in an $8,000 or $12,500 [claiming] race," he said. "Racing secretary Greg Brent said, 'Why not nominate him?' I doubt if an $8,000 race will go here, so I did."

Wilkes claimed the 5-year-old Jim's Relaunch for $8,000 at Fresno last fall. In his only start in a stakes race, Jim's Relaunch ran third in the Bulldog Stakes at Fresno in October 2001.

Jim's Relaunch, winless in five starts in low-priced claiming races this year, wasn't even nominated to the race when it was originally scheduled for Saturday.

Taraval, a multiple stakes winner last year as a 2-year-old, was nominated but not entered on Saturday.

Taraval is actually a contender in a race that could set up nicely for him.

Trickey Trevor, second in the Sam Whiting at Pleasanton, and the freshened My Captain, making his first start since May 18, will likely be engaged in a pace battle. Probable favorite Texas Chili, winner of the Whiting, will be far off the pace early, as will Jim's Relaunch.

That could put Taraval in perfect position, just off the leaders and getting first run in the lane. Taraval ran well here last year, finishing second to future California Derby winner Mr. Technique in the Redwood Empire Stakes.

Gilchrist likes the way the race sets up. He just doesn't like running against older horses.

"Having a good 3-year-old sprinter is a terrible property in northern California," he said. "I've had this horse in training most of the year and only been able to run him twice, in Southern California.

"Originally, I planned to run in the seven-eighths Real Good Deal for Cal-breds at Del Mar next month, but they could not make a race for 3-year-olds go at Santa Rosa. I had a choice of seven-eighths at Del Mar off a two-month layoff, which I don't think is fair to the horse or owner or anyone, or to run against old, hard-knocking horses. That was the choice I had.

"My horse will run and do his best, but if you continually run 3-year-olds against older, it's not good for them."