11/29/2001 12:00AM

Trainer calls Rio Oro 'scary good'

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ALBANY, Calif. - Trainer Frank Monteleone was ready to claim Rio Oro for $10,000 this summer at Del Mar - until he saw him in the walking ring.

"I filled a slip out, but when I saw him, he had more problems than Carter has little liver pills," Monteleone said.

Still, owner Bernard Schiappa decided to go ahead with the claim, and on Saturday his $10,000 claim will be running in the $55,000-added Albany Handicap at Golden Gate Fields. Rio Oro figures to be one of the favorites, too, in the full field of 12.

Monteleone was originally attracted to Rio Oro, he said, "because he was an old past classer, and I thought we could take him and win a starter $5,000 race at Fairplex."

The day he was claimed by Monteleone,

on Aug. 4, Rio Oro ran eighth, beaten 14 1/2 lengths.

Monteleone told Rio Oro's previous owner-trainer Nicholas Hines, "I did you a favor" when he saw him after the race. "'You didn't,' he told me," Monteleone said.

"We made some minor changes, and he started blossoming," Monteleone said. "He's a scary kind of good."

Rio Oro, who was away from the races from July 5, 1999 to March 24, 2001, won a starter race at Fairplex on Sept. 17. Next, he set a Bay Meadows track record of 1:01.60 for 5 1/2 furlongs, winning a $6,500 starter allowance race on Oct. 7. He then won the Cal Cup Starter Handicap Sprint on Nov. 3 at Oak Tree, in his last start.

"Before the Cal Cup, I said there was no way he'd get beat," Monteleone said.

He's making no such predictions for the Albany, but he is confident.

"To be honest, I nominated him to three races," Monteleone said. "I had a chance to get Russell Baze so I decided to go up there."

Rio Oro will meet a hot local entrant in trainer R.L. Martin's Hyder, who comes in off a pair of wins optional $40,000 claimer wins.

"I think he's getting to the stage he can handle these," said Martin, a co-owner of Hyder with Carrie Rose.

Hyder has won coming off the pace and also stalking the pace. "Sometimes the races have unfolded well with a lot of speed in them, but he can hang up close and finish strong," Martin said.

- Northern California head clocker Lafe Bassett has changed the designation of "breezing" and "handily" that were used for 10 days so that now all November works are uniform with terminology used in Southern California.