11/10/2004 12:00AM

Turf Paradise track report

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Black Bart proved any rumors of his demise were greatly exaggerated with a dazzling win in last Saturday's $40,000 Walter Cluer Handicap at Turf Paradise.

The 5-year-old Black Bart won by seven lengths in the 7 1/2-furlong turf race, and set a course record in the process. Black Bart's winning time - under wraps, no less - was 1:27.54. The previous mark was Briartic Gold's 1:28, set in 2003.

"Absolutely awesome," said rider Sandi Gann. "He could have flown."

Black Bart had been in dull form. He had a huge 2003-2004 season here - three wins in four starts, including a nose loss in the Turf Paradise BC Handicap to Irish Warrior - then won two stakes in Southern California and finished a solid fourth in the Grade 2 American Handicap. Since then, in three straight California outings, he had been less than his previously dazzling self for trainer Troy Bainum and owner Tom Metzger. That all changed here when he left Paladin Power, Adroitly Superb, and six others in his wake.

"Sandi said it best," said Bainum. "Awesome performance. The Cotton Fitzsimmons will definitely be on his schedule."

The Cotton Fitzsimmons, named after the late long-time NBA coach, Phoenix Suns executive, Turf Paradise fixture, and local icon, will be run Jan. 8 at a mile on the turf, a course where Black Bart is now 4 for 5.

Black Bart is now 9 for 33 with earnings of $346,080.

* Through Monday there was a three-way tie at the top of the jockey standings with defending champion Mick Ruis, Wilson Dieguez, and up-and-coming apprentice Kyle Kaenel all with 23 wins. Miguel Hernandez wasn't far behind at 16, followed by Steve Gomez (13) and Scott Stevens (12), both of whom have won riding titles here.

Keith Bennett's dynamite start has him atop the trainer standings. Through Monday Bennett had clicked with 12 of his first 25 runners He also has six seconds. Dan McFarlane, Jim Hill, and Bart Hone were all next with nine wins, followed by Eric Kruljac and last year's winner, Troy Bainum, with eight.