05/08/2008 12:00AM

There's a new lock for leg 3


SAN MATEO, Calif. - Was there ever a horse that seemed more of a lock than Iron Duke in the second leg of the Triple Play series at Bay Meadows last month?

He won the first division of the first leg by five lengths on March 16, running nearly three full seconds faster than the winner of the other division. But in the April 18 second leg, Iron Duke finished eighth, beaten 20 lengths at 4-5.

Sidepocket Cat may have inherited Iron Duke's "lock" status going into Saturday's $60,000 finale of the Triple Play series. The 1 1/4-mile race will be run under starter allowance conditions, and only horses who ran in the first two legs of the series are eligible. Horses could be claimed for $10,000 out of the first leg, but the second leg was run as a starter allowance.

Sidepocket Cat ran second, five lengths behind Iron Duke, in the 1 1/16-mile first leg. He then won the 1 1/8-mile second leg by four lengths.

"We've still got the big one to go," Sidepocket Cat's trainer, Steve Miyadi, said after winning the second leg.

The field of seven will be challenged by the 1 1/4-mile distance.

Sidepocket Cat finished strongly after stalking Bonfire Burt in the second leg, but the additional eighth of a mile could be a problem for him. His sire, Royal Cat, is primarily a speed sire whose progeny's average winning distance is 5.9 furlongs. His dam, On the Snap, also has thrown primarily sprinters.

Miyadi has given Sidepocket Cat easy six- and seven-furlong works since his victory in hopes of getting him to stretch out.

The runner most likely to like the distance is Afternoon Express, who has already won at 2 1/8 miles at Hastings. The progeny of his sire, Afternoon Deelites, have an average winning distance of seven furlongs, while the progeny of his dam, Sky Express, have averaged more than 1 1/8 miles per win.

Afternoon Express goes into the race off a bullet five-furlong work in 59.60 seconds.

"He's worked well," said trainer Roger Hansen.

Hansen claimed Afternoon Express and also Sanfran for Kjell Qvale in the first leg.

Trainer Mark Rheinford hopes Iron Duke can rebound from his dismal try in the second leg.

"I think he bounced," Rheinford said. "It was a hot day, and he kind of suffered a little heat exhaustion, but he didn't bring a lot to the table anyway. I think he's still a major player."