01/25/2007 12:00AM

Top Her Now, 3 for 3, gets toughest test

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ALBANY, Calif. - Trainer Kent Molinaro thought enough of Top Her Now as a 2-year-old that he purchased her for $55,000 at the Barretts May sale. Seventeen months later, last October, she made her debut for an $8,000 claiming tag at Fresno and led wire to wire. Nearly six weeks after that, she made her second start, again winning in wire-to-wire fashion, and was claimed for $12,500.

When she made her first start for her new barn, on Dec. 8 at Bay Meadows, Molinaro claimed her back for $20,000, and she rang up her third straight wire-to-wire victory.

Top Her Now won't be claimed out of Saturday's Golden Gate Fields feature. She will, however, face the toughest challenge of her career, meeting eight other fillies and mares in a six-furlong allowance race.

"I didn't know until she started running how good she would be," Molinaro said.

Molinaro said the filly was "worn out" after her preparations for the sale so he gave her time off at a farm. When she came back, he said, "We had to re-break her all over again."

That, plus the normal problems most young horses face, delayed her debut.

"I didn't want to rush her along," Molinaro said. "To be honest, I didn't know what level she fit at, but I'd rather start low and work up."

Top Her Now has passed each test, facing tougher competition each time. In her last start, she was pressured to the quarter pole and pulled away.

"To be 3 for 3 no matter what the level is hard," Molinaro said. "This is tougher than she's faced before."

Top Her Now has never been behind at any call. But she'll have several pace rivals Saturday, including Cascade Rain from the rail and Losin at Love and Tucker's Tune from outside her.

If she survives a pace challenge, she'll have to contend with Karens Kwik Wager, who just won a $40,000 starter allowance, and Aeblus, who finished second ahead of Losin at Love at this level in her last start.

Molinaro still has questions about Top Her Now. Can she handle this next step up the class ladder? Can she win if she doesn't have the lead?

"Who knows? I don't know," he said. "I guess we'll find out Saturday."

Six in California Derby

Six runners entered Sunday's $150,000 California Derby at 1 1/16 miles.

Local longshot Cover Magic drew the rail for owner-trainer Alex Paszkeicz. The Jerry Hollendorfer-trained trio of Double Action, Candy's Bro, and Bwana Bull drew posts 2, 3 and 6, respectively. Chief's Magic, from Bob Baffert's barn, has the post 4, with the Craig Dollase-trained Boutrous in post 5.