09/26/2002 11:00PM

They'll have to go through Sigfreto

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POMONA, Calif. - Reba's Gold and Hot Market have fitting qualifications to win the $100,000 Ralph M. Hinds Pomona Invitational Handicap Sunday, closing day at Fairplex Park. Graded-stakes placed and in sharp form, Reba's Gold and Hot Market are the 119-pound co-highweights in the biggest race of the Los Angeles County Fair.

But no horse wins at Fairplex without a fight from course specialist Sigfreto, winner of the 2000 Pomona Derby and 2001 Phil D. Shepherd here.

"He's like a monster over there," said his trainer, Doug Peterson. "He just loves it, and he's the same way on the training track. He just loves those tracks."

Those tracks are five-eighths-mile ovals, where agility can compensate for a deficiency in class. Though less accomplished than Reba's Gold or Hot Market, Sigfreto threatens to emerge from the 2002 Fairplex meet as the new king of the bullring.

Nine older horses entered the 1 1/8-mile Pomona Handicap. Marginal contenders include Nates Colony and graded stakes winner Out of Mind. Longshots are Dig for It, Most Likely, Hook Call, and San Nicolas.

While Sigfreto is proven at the distance and over the track, Reba's Gold and Hot Market enter uncharted territory.

Reba's Gold finished third in a Grade 2 route in his last start, but his trainer, Dan Hendricks, understands the challenges on Sunday.

"I've gone [to Fairplex] confident, but this race is not a gimme at all," he said. "But going in, it looks like the right place to run, instead of against the top handicap runners."

David Flores rides Reba's Gold, a winner of five races and $353,212 from 25 starts. Hendricks admits 1 1/8 miles is stretching Reba's Gold's distance limitations, but said, "I think he'll get the distance; he has tactical speed."

Hot Market can do a half-mile in under 45 seconds, and is the speed of the race. The gelding finished second in a Grade 2 sprint last out, beaten a head by Disturbingthepeace, a winner of six straight. To win the Pomona Handicap under Jose Valdivia, Hot Market must do it on the front end.

A fast pace would help Sigfreto, who overcame a slow start in the Shepherd to win by a half-length. "We've schooled him since that race," Peterson said, hoping to avoid being compromised by another tardy takeoff.

Sigfreto has won six races and $216,160 from 20 starts and will be ridden by Matt Garcia.

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