10/27/2003 12:00AM

Vallarta steals Pacifica Handicap

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SAN MATEO, Calif. - Vallarta ($27.80) caught a paceless field, set easy fractions and scored an easy three-length victory in the $68,200 at Bay Meadows on Sunday.

Vallarta, coming off a victory in a $50,000 optional claiming race, made it 3-for-3 over the Longden Turf Course, beating multiple graded stakes winner Ninebanks by three lengths. The winning time was 1:42.30 for 1 1/16 miles.

Aly Bubba edged Surprise Halo for third, one length behind Ninebanks.

"After I saw the past performances, I saw there wasn't much speed. I told my agent if Donna (Elordi, Vallarta's trainer) gave me the green light, I thought I could win," winning rider Roberto Gonzalez said. "Donna said to do whatever I wanted."

Gonzalez put up fractions of 24.10, 48.01 and 1:11.89 on an unpressured lead. He opened by four early in the stretch and cruised home.

"When I saw the 49, I thought we had a real good shot," Elordi said.

"He's just a nice horse. There wasn't a lot of other speed or else they didn't want to use the speed. It made it better for us."

Vallarta, a 5-year-old gelding owned by Paul Girdner and Reginald Jones, earned $33,500 for the victory, lifting his career earnings to $130,425 with six wins in 14 starts.