04/06/2006 11:00PM

Test gets stiffer for 'Faith'

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ALBANY, Calif. - In her first start for trainer John Martin, Strong Faith won the Muir Woods at Golden Gate Fields on March 12. She will meet a similar but slightly stronger field on Sunday in the $40,000-added Half Moon Bay Stakes at 1 1/16 miles on the turf.

Mark Saleby, one of Martin's clients, took a liking to after watching her win at Golden Gate Fields last year and asked Martin to claim her for $32,000 on Jan. 26 at Bay Meadows.

"I thought she had a chance last time, but I had to see it to believe it," Martin said of Strong Faith's three-length victory over Eleanor Rose, who came back to win the Work the Crowd Handicap last week.

Veteran jockey Roberto Gonzalez moved sooner than he had planned, steering Strong Faith wide to avoid any traffic problems. He has been aboard for her past four victories and has the mount again Sunday.

"I believe in leaving a good thing alone," Martin said. "Once a jockey has confidence in a horse, it usually makes for good results."

Eleanor Rose is entered to run only eight days after her wire-to-wire victory in the $100,000 Work the Crowd against Cal-breds. Marla Bay, third in the Muir Woods, is also entered.

set the pace in the Muir Woods, followed by Eleanor Rose. Neither is likely to see the lead Sunday with the presence of stakes-winning Heavenly Humor, part of a three-horse entry owned and trained by Jerry Hollendorfer.

Hollendorfer's other two runners - Sky Dreams, who will be seeking her third straight victory, and Helen's Startax, a newly claimed East Coast horse - both do their best work when sitting close to the pace.

The pace scenario should work well for Strong Faith, who was last early while maintaining a stalking position in the Muir Woods.

"This race is tougher than the last one," Martin said. "I hope it stays on the turf, but she does like wet tracks."

The Muir Woods was run on a sloppy track, and Martin said he considered scratching before the race.

Martin said he likes the timing of the Half Moon Bay, which comes four weeks after the Muir Woods.

"I'm not a believer in over-racing horses," he said. "I want to give them time between races. She's doing well now, and we've put some weight on her. She looks like a great, timely claim. I hope she gets better."

Heavenly Humor would make her turf debut should the race run as scheduled. A switch to the main track would make her and the entry a very strong favorite.