03/12/2003 12:00AM

Uncertain weather, unsettled field


ALBANY, Calif. - Because of concerns about the weather, the status of many of the potential runners for Sunday's Grade 3, $150,000 Golden Gate Breeders' Cup Handicap remains in limbo.

All eyes are on weather reports that indicate a severe storm is coming this weekend. The storm is supposed to hit Friday when entries to the turf race are taken.

Stakes coordinator Grant Baker said the race would come off the turf only "if management and jockeys believed the turf was unsafe." He said the graded status of the race could be affected by a switch to the turf.

There remain only two horses listed as definite for the 1 1/8-mile race, locally based Ninebanks and Surprise Halo.

The outlook is better for Saturday's $75,000 California Oaks, a 1 1/16-mile race for 3-year-old fillies on the main track. Although the speedy Point Clear, who has won 2 of 3 career starts, is no longer being considered for the race, the field remains set at eight with the addition of maiden Quero Quero.

Trained by Paulo Lobo, Quero Quero has run second in both career starts, both races at about 6 1/2 furlongs down Santa Anita's hillside turf course. She lost by one length in her debut and by a nose when favored in her second start.

Ludicrous Speed feature favorite

Friday's feature at Golden Gate Fields is the first race on the card, a $20,000 claiming race at a mile.

Ludicrous Speed, second by a nose and then third to the streaking Red Packet in his first two starts of the year, is the probable favorite.

Also in the field is Federal Highway, winner of the James F. Lyttle Handicap at Santa Rosa last summer. Federal Highway has not won since that race and drops in claiming price for the fourth straight race.

Rounding out the field are Irish-bred Shove Ha'penny, who hesitated badly at the start last month in his U.S. debut, Bryanzole', and Cabaret Dancer.

The Barking Shark retired

The Barking Shark, who was the runner-up in both the Grade 1 Super Derby in 1996 and Grade 1 Strub Stakes in 1997, was scratched from an $8,000 claimer Wednesday after being purchased Tuesday for the purpose of being retired.

The 10-year-old gelding had 9 wins with 13 seconds and 4 thirds in 56 starts. He earned $572,366 during his career, including a victory in his final start, in a $5,000 claimer Feb. 9 when he was claimed by trainer Ed Moger Jr.

Two separate groups were interested in buying and retiring The Barking Shark, whose past injuries include a broken cannon bone that required eight screws. Their contact at Golden Gate Fields was Kit Hilling, the wife of trainer Jim Hilling, who often finds homes for retired horses.

Both groups planned to claim The Barking Shark from Wednesday's race. When it was learned there would be at least one other claim, one group, led by longtime owner-breeders Andy and Connie Pansini, made a successful offer to purchase him from Moger.

"It's a difficult thing to try to protect these horses," Andy Pansini said.

"I'm really glad we did it," Connie Pansini said. "He needs to be under the care of someone who understands his condition."

The Barking Shark will be sent to Glen Ellen Vocational Academy, which is northern California's only nonprofit retirement facility.

Letha Ehrenfelt, a friend the Pansinis met in the Golden Gate Fields turf club, and Teddy Cole were also involved in the purchase.

Cole, an owner-breeder who has set up a foundation to help California's Thoroughbred retirement organizations provide basics such as shoeing, medicine, and feed for horses, said she doesn't usually become involved in the purchase of horses for retirement. But she said she "couldn't resist" helping The Barking Shark find a home.

Equine artist Curtis Wright had also planned to claim The Barking Shark through Hilling.

Wright first saw The Barking Shark during his 3-year-old year at Del Mar when he ran second in three straight stakes, the Oceanside, La Jolla, and Del Mar Derby.

"I never won a dime on him - I always bet him to win," Wright said. "He's my favorite horse. I want him to have a good life."

- Onebadshark, who set the pace and finished fifth in the El Camino Real Derby, will be sidelined for four months with a cracked shin. Trainer Brian Koriner said it would be about seven months before the colt can race.