12/16/2005 12:00AM

Two trainers welcome shot at marathon

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ALBANY, Calif. - In an era where anything longer than 1 1/16 miles raises questions as to a horse's ability to negotiate the distance, trainers John Martin and Alex Paszkeicz are looking forward to Sunday's feature at Golden Gate Fields.

The $25,000 optional claimer is at 1 1/2 miles. The marathon drew seven entrants, including three shipping up from Southern California. Paszkeicz sends Steppin Charlie and Martin saddles Native Approval.

Paszkeicz likes to have his horses run long distances.

"It goes back to being a cross-country coach," said Paszkeicz. "It's lung power.

"My whole theory is horses used to roam free, so I try to get them to gallop two miles every day. That's better for them than simply sprinting a little."

Both Martin and Paszkeicz are frustrated by the number of sprints and mile races offered on the turf. They were quick to take advantage of Sunday's race, the longest race of the meet.

"To me, all my turf horses want to go 1 1/16 miles or more," Martin said.

Martin said he passed up an opportunity to run Native Approval in a 1 1/16-mile race in order to run in the Sunday marathon.

Native Approval seems to like long distances. He's been second in his past two starts, at 1 3/8 miles on the turf at Bay Meadows, and at 1 1/4 miles on the dirt here when a 1 3/8-mile turf race had to be switched to the dirt.

Paszkeicz's horse, Steppin Charlie, won a strong $6,250 starter allowance race at 1 3/8 miles on the turf at Bay Meadows and followed up with a fourth at this level, trailing Native Approval on Oct. 16.

"Not only did he tell me he wanted longer, but so did the jockeys," Paszkeicz said. "At a mile or 1 1/16 miles, he was just getting started when he'd hit the finish line. He'd gallop out past horses. He always wanted more."

Two of the Southern California invaders seem the same way.

The probable favorite, Time to Honor, won the California Cup Starter Handicap at this 1 1/2-mile distance at the Oak Tree meet at Santa Anita.

The Irish-bred Jaafi, sixth in a mile race in his U.S. debut here, won his maiden at 1 3/8 miles in Great Britain in his second start and then was second at this distance in his next start before being sold to Clear Valley Stables and Ron Charles.

- Bond Deal, trained by Ben Cecil, won Thursday's turf feature for fillies and mares, which included five stakes winners in its six entrants. Cecil said Bond Deal would be pointed for the Grade 2 San Gorgonio on Jan. 8 at Santa Anita.