06/07/2001 11:00PM

Top locals face off in Ascot

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SAN MATEO, Calif. - Hoovergetthekeys and Sea to See, perhaps northern California's two best 3-year-olds, will meet in the $100,000, Grade 3 Ascot Handicap at 1 1/16 miles on the Bay Meadows turf Saturday.

The two local luminaries figure to be among the favorites, but will get competition in the race from the Bobby Frankel-trained Marine, and possibly Times Square.

Hoovergetthekeys looked like a potential superstar earlier in the year, when he won the Golden Gate Derby by five lengths and the El Camino Real Derby by seven, but he hasn't been quite as good since then, and will be switching to the turf Saturday. Sea to See and Marine, meanwhile, finished fourth and fifth, respectively, in the Grade 3 Will Rogers Handicap on the Hollywood Park turf April 20 and are proven performers on the grass.

Sea to See and Hoovergetthekeys actually met on the grass in a first-level allowance race Dec. 30 at Golden Gate, with Sea to See winning by two lengths and Hoovergetthekeys second. That was Hoovergetthekeys's first and only grass race, while Sea to See has gone on to establish himself as a solid grass horse. Both are presumably much better now than they were then.

Sea to See later won a second-level allowance race on the turf at Golden Gate, then turned in an outstanding performance in the Will Rogers. He was 10-1 in that race while Marine was 9-5, and Sea to See finished only a nose in front of Marine. He had a much worse trip, however, as he was wider, and also was squeezed back on the second turn and had to steady. Some observers felt he may have been the best horse that day.

Marine subsequently finished third at 9-5 in the Cinema Handicap, while Sea to See has not started since the Will Rogers.

"He got sick," trainer Bill Delia explained. "I wanted to run him in the Round Table [May 13] but his blood count got out of whack. I had to slow down and back off him, but since then he's been doing pretty good. He's kind of being more mellow. Usually he's hyper."

Hoovergetthekeys has been a bit of a disappointment since winning the Golden Gate Derby and El Camino Real impressively, finishing seventh in the Lone Star Derby and then third as the favorite in the Snow Chief, which was restricted to California-breds.

Trainer Brian Koriner attributed the Lone Star fiasco to a minor ankle problem that quickly cleared up but, according to the trainer, still affected his effort in the Snow Chief three weeks later. "He'd lost a little weight and actually needed two more weeks," Koriner said. "I didn't expect him to run his best; I just hoped he would still be good enough to win." Koriner expects the horse to run his best Saturday.

o Jockey Russell Baze won two races Thursday to one for Jason Lumpkins, and opened a 78-71 lead in the Bay Meadows rider standings going into Friday night's program. Baze, who has won the riding title at every Bay Meadows and Golden Gate meeting at which he has participated since 1981, has seldom been challenged this late in a meeting. Going into Friday, there were eight days remaining in the 2001 spring meeting.