11/29/2002 1:00AM

Unlimited Value fractures leg

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INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Unlimited Value, the winner of the California Cup Sprint last month at Santa Anita, has injured a pastern, and the injury could force the end of his racing career, according to owner John Harris.

The injury occurred on Friday during training at Santa Anita. Harris said that the pastern was fractured, but not displaced, and that Unlimited Value was scheduled to undergo surgery over the weekend. Dr. Rick Arthur will conduct the surgery, Harris said.

"It's not life-threatening," Harris said. "It's a question of whether he makes it back as a racehorse." Harris said that Unlimited Value, a gelding, would be sent to his farm in Coalinga, Calif., to recuperate. "We'll re-evaluate his condition in 90 days," he said.

Unlimited Value has won 7 of 13 starts and $395,980. Trained by Carla Gaines, the 6-year-old Unlimited Value won his first stakes in the California Cup Sprint, but had placed in two other stakes - the 2000 California Sprint Championship at Bay Meadows and the 2001 Sensational Star Handicap on turf at Santa Anita.

Unlimited Value was being pointed for the Great States Challenge at Sam Houston Race Park next weekend when the injury occurred.

Plagued by injuries in recent years, he made just five starts over the last two years.

"This was a different injury than what he had before," Harris said.

Irish filly returns for Matriarch

With major stakes wins on two continents already this year, Irish trainer Dermot Weld has spent the fall plundering some of the world's top races.

Sunday, he starts Dress to Thrill in the $500,000 Matriarch Stakes at Hollywood Park.

Judging from the trainer's success in recent months, the 3-year-old Dress to Thrill should be given consideration in the Grade 1 Matriarch.

In Ireland in September, Weld won the prestigious National Stakes with Refuse to Bend and the St. Leger with Vinnie Roe. On Nov. 5, Weld won his second Melbourne Cup in Australia when Media Puzzle scored a popular victory. Vinnie Roe finished fourth.

All the while, the stable has a division of steeplechase horses preparing for the winter season in Ireland and a sprinter bound for Hong Kong in mid-December.

Dress to Thrill has been a candidate for the Matriarch since winning the Grade 2 Sun Chariot Stakes at Newmarket, England, on

Oct. 5. She followed that with an eighth-place finish in the Breeders' Cup Mile at Arlington Park on Oct. 26, but responded to training so quickly when she returned to Ireland that the California race became a realistic goal.

"The ground turned up a little soft at the Breeders' Cup and she's better on firm ground," said Jeff Byrne, an assistant trainer for Weld.

Dress to Thrill arrived with Byrne on Monday and cleared quarantine Wednesday. She had a gallop on the training track on Friday with her traveling companion, an unraced filly who calms Dress to Thrill, Byrne said.

The Matriarch will be Dress to Thrill's first start in a Grade 1 stakes for fillies and mares.

In Europe, she was second in the Group 1 Moyglare Stud Stakes for 2-year-old fillies in September 2001. To start her 3-year-old campaign, Dress to Thrill won three consecutive stakes in Ireland before traveling to England. The Matriarch will be Dress to Thrill's first start beyond a mile.

Owned by Moyglare Stud Farm, Dress to Thrill is the lone 3-year-old filly in the Matriarch field and one of two Europeans. The other is Choc Ice, the winner of the 2001 E.P. Taylor Stakes at Woodbine, who will be a longshot. Trained in France by Robert Collet, she has one victory in five starts this year, a minor stakes in Paris in September. She was fourth in the E.P. Taylor Stakes and second in a Group 2 race in Italy in late October.

Clearly, Dress to Thrill is the best chance of the Europeans, and a contender if the domestic team of Golden Apples and Banks Hill do not run their top races.

Dress to Thrill is trying to become the fourth 3-year-old filly to win the Matriarch, joining Castilla (1982), Flawlessly (1991), and Ryafan (1997).

"If there's a chance, you might as well take it," Byrne said. "We'd like to see the filly win a Group 1."

Men's Exclusive preps for Underwood

Men's Exclusive will seek an unprecedented third consecutive win in the $100,000 Vernon Underwood Stakes over six furlongs next Saturday. Trained by Wesley Ward, the 9-year-old Men's Exclusive worked five furlongs in 1:03.20 at Santa Anita on Friday.

The Underwood is the top race at Hollywood Park next weekend. Sunday's feature is the $70,000 Corona Handicap for fillies and mares over six furlongs.