02/10/2003 12:00AM

Test for Hooked on Niners


ALBANY, Calif. - Trainer William J. Morey Jr. hopes he will feel as good following Wednesday's featured race at Golden Gate Fields as he did after Sunday's.

Morey's Winning Stripes, a 3-year-old colt, ran second to odds-on favorite Ministers Wild Cat in the Golden State Mile on Sunday. The performance, in addition to his previous successes, makes Winning Stripes the best of the northern California-based 3-year-old males.

On Wednesday, Morey will start Hooked on Niners, 4, against six rivals in a $50,000 optional claiming race at one mile for fillies and mares.

Hooked on Niners has picked up a check in each of her six starts, running three times on turf and three times on dirt. Her lone off-the-board finish was a fourth-place finish over a sloppy track.

Hooked on Niners didn't make her career debut until Sept. 11, when she finished second to eventual stakes winner Lacie Girl.

She followed up with a maiden win on turf and an allowance win on dirt. Since then, she has lost three starts by a combined total of three lengths.

She figures to be thoroughly tested Wednesday.

The vastly improved Star of Beijing, who ran third in the same Sept. 11 maiden race, has won her past two starts on dirt and could provide the main competition.

Planoncometbebopin, who put together back-to-back stakes wins in the summer of 2001, makes her third start after a one-year layoff. Innocent Kiss, a Brazilian Grade 1 winner, makes her United States dirt debut following three turf races in Southern California.

Princessaconcuervo, who loves this course; Ste. Pecheresse, who beat Hooked on Niners in the slop two starts back; and Palace Royale, stakes placed on turf, but running for the first time on dirt, round out the field.

Morey isn't worried about the quality of the competition. He has always believed Hooked on Niners possesses great talent.

"I took her to Del Mar as a 2-year-old, but she hurt herself behind just when she was ready to run," Morey said. "I had to stop and turn her out."

Morey said Hooked on Niners is not a hard horse to ride or train, but she does get "stiff behind." That stiffness works itself out, but hinders the trainer's long-range planning.

It cost him the services of leading rider Russell Baze in Wednesday's race because he was unable to assure that Hooked on Niners would run before the race was drawn.

Joey Castro, who rode Hooked on Niners in her debut, picked up the mount.

* Northern California's two top 3-year-old fillies, Denali Cat and Jaciro, and Market Garden have been nominated for Saturday's six-furlong $100,000 Boo La Boo Stakes at Santa Anita.

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