06/15/2004 11:00PM

Two speedballs in sprint showdown

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SAN MATEO, Calif. - Who will blink first?

That's the big question heading into Saturday's Grade 3, $125,000 Bay Meadows Breeders' Cup Sprint.

Hombre Rapido and Giovannetti have only one way to go. They both want and need the lead.

"This horse is probably the fastest going on the West Coast. He can go 43 [seconds] and change," Hombre Rapdio's trainer John Sadler said. "When he's right, he's very, very fast, and we have him in good shape.

"If he has the lead, he'll keep going. I believe he's the fastest horse in the race."

Giovannetti's trainer Frank Monteleone has great respect for Hombre Rapido, but he's not blinking.

"He's going," he said of his strategy with Giovannetti. "If someone wants to go with him, that's all right, but he's going."

Monteleone concedes that Hombre Rapido is the one to beat. "My horse will have to run the race of his life," he said. "That being said, I think my horse is ready to run the race of his life."

The two speedsters have had their share of problems.

Hombre Rapido had a minor ankle chip that sidelined for six months in 2002. He was gone two days shy of a year after winning the L.A. Times Handicap in 2003 with a foot injury.

"He came up sore after that race," Sadler said. "It wasn't a fracture, but it lit up the nuclear scan like a fracture."

Hombre Rapido was sixth in this year's edition of the L.A. Times in his comeback race.

"We were disappointed he didn't get the lead, but he broke a little slow," said Sadler. "We had hoped to get him a prep race first, but he came out of the race fine, no problems. Even though he's not Breeders' Cup nominated and we're not running for as much money, he needs to run."

Giovannetti fought ulcer and lung problems for much of 2003.

He won the Ken Maddy Sprint Handicap at Golden Gate Fields on Feb. 21 but ran poorly in defense of his Phoenix Gold Cup title.

"Afterwards, he got really sick," Monteleone said. "He just kind of ran dull. He was probably getting sick that day. The day after the race, he had a 105-degree fever. Once he got over that, we still went easy with him. Giovannetti never needs a lot of training."

Princessaconcuervo must be caught

Eight fillies and mares meet in Friday's Bay Meadows feature, a $50,000 optional claimer at 5 1/2 furlongs.

Princessaconcuervo, making her third start after an 11-month layoff, should be set for a winning performance. She flashed more speed last time, taking the lead in the stretch before being getting caught late by Gyrene. She will be the one to catch.