05/03/2004 12:00AM

Unlikely path leads Edwards to labor of love


SAN MATEO, Calif. - Even F. Bart Edwards admits he shakes his head in wonder sometimes at how he became a trainer.

A foot and ankle surgeon for 14 years, Edwards bought a racehorse three years ago and got hooked on the business even though the filly he claimed was not particularly successful.

Edwards was married to trainer Julia Limback at the time and began to visit the backstretch.

"Just being on the backside, I found I had a love for horses I never knew about," said Edwards, 48. "I was born and raised in Los Angeles and would go to Santa Anita with my dad."

Pete McAteer, a booking agent for a vanning company, put Edwards in touch with Hall of Fame trainer Jack Van Berg, and the surgeon became a groom a year ago.

"He really tried me for three months, testing me," Edwards said.

Edwards must have passed the test, because Van Berg began to mentor him and gave him more and more responsibilities around his barn.

"I'd pick Jack's brain, and he'd talk about racing with his dad," Edwards said. "We'd listen to a Seabiscuit audio tape when we drove around, and sometimes he'd stop the tape and tell me stories about the people mentioned."

Edwards has won four races in 34 starts, including a victory in a $50,000 optional claimer with Professor Higgins, a horse he claimed for $12,500 last October. With an additional 10 seconds and six thirds, he has finished in the money at a 58 percent clip.

"I do all the work," Edwards said. "I'm my own groom, hot walker, and trainer. I love it. If you don't have passion for what you do, it makes a long day."

Record handle on Derby Day

Saturday's Kentucky Derby helped set a northern California wagering record when $9,793,536 was bet on the day at Bay Meadows and northern California simulcast sites. The figure topped the previous record of $9,705,403 wagered Oct. 27, 2001, Breeders' Cup Day.

A total of $2,392,610 was wagered on the Kentucky Derby, surpassing the previous high of $2,319,011, set last year.

Yerba Buena lineup shapes up

Connections for five locally based fillies and mares and at least one Southern California runner have indicated they will run in Saturday's Grade 3, $125,000 Yerba Buena Breeders' Cup Handicap at 1 1/8 miles on the turf.

Scheduled to compete are Hippogator, stablemate Marwood, A B Noodle, and Hooked on Niners, the top four finishers in the April 10 Miss America Handicap, and Sister Mary Hugh, a runner-up in all four starts this year. Trainer Neil Drysdale is planning to send stakes winner Arabic Song.

Noches De Rosa, from the Richard Mandella barn, is possible, and trainer Bobby Frankel may send either Personal Legend or Shoot.

Martin holding aces

Trainer John Martin has the two horses to beat in Wednesday's Bay Meadows feature, a $50,000 optional claimer for fillies and mares at 1 1/16 miles on the turf.

Royal Teresa has won three straight since being sent to Martin in March. Her stablemate, Dancing Sands, put together back-to-back wins at Golden Gate Fields last fall.

Royal Teresa, who takes another move up the class ladder, is the one to catch from the rail.

"I think the thing that helped more than anything was to come up here and beat easier," Martin said. "That was [owner Richard] Englander's idea, to get her in easier races. She's got her issues, and she needed to beat somebody."

Royal Teresa won twice for $25,000 at Golden Gate Fields before Martin returned her to Englander's Southern California trainer, Jeff Mullins, for a $35,000 claiming win against 4-year-olds.

"Jeff and I work well together," Martin said. "The race at Santa Anita was also the last time she'll probably be able to run against 4-year-olds."

Later on the Wednesday card, Martin runs Flirt With Danger in a $25,000 claimer on the turf for Englander. Flirt With Danger has won three straight since coming to California, all in $12,500 starter allowance races.

She was entered April 21, but would have had to carry 128 pounds after winning under 125 in her previous start.

Martin was ready to run before having second thoughts.

"Carrying all that weight would have been difficult," he said. "We needed to find her another spot."

Despite the step up in class, Flirt With Danger looks like the one to beat. She will shed nine pounds and carry 116.

Almost Golden wins 25th

Almost Golden scored his 25th victory Saturday in a $6,250 claimer at 1 1/16 miles on the turf. The start was the 100th of Almost Golden's career.

The two-length victory over Gray Heat boosted Almost Golden's career earnings to $425,620 and came one day before the anniversary of the date he was foaled.

A 10-year-old gelding trained by Donna Elordi, Almost Golden was second in his career debut June 22, 1996, for a $16,000 claiming tag at Emerald Downs and won his second start July 17, 1996, in a $25,000 maiden claimer at Emerald. Four of his wins have come in stakes at Boise, including the Au Revoir Handicap in 2001 and 2003.