11/19/2002 1:00AM

Wanted: Restored confidence

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ALBANY, Calif. - If it's true that winning builds confidence in horses, it follows that losing erodes it.

And that's why Thursday's feature at Golden Gate Fields takes on extra significance for trainers Armando Lage and Jim Hilling.

Lage has entered Chic Domestique in the $40,000 optional claimer for 3-year-old fillies at one mile on the turf. Hilling has entered Doc's Lil Angel. Both fillies come off poor stakes tries on the dirt but return to their favorite surface Thursday.

"After getting a horse, especially a filly, beat, you try to find an easy spot to get her confidence back," Lage said. "I need to get my confidence back in her, too."

After failing to win her maiden sprinting on the main track at Bay Meadows and Del Mar, Chic Domestique returned to northern California and moved to the turf for her third start, scoring an easy win at a mile. She repeated in her next start, again at a mile on the turf.

In her most recent start, she finished last in the Cal Cup Matron at Santa Anita on Nov. 2. Lage expects Chic Domestique to rebound from that performance.

"I try to back off a little in her training. I get her feeling real happy," he said. "I pamper her. She's already very fit."

Although Doc's Lil Angel is actually running for a $40,000 tag, Hilling still has confidence in her. She finished second in a March 14 sprint in her debut at Golden Gate Fields, then beat A B Noodle in a controversial turf race at Bay Meadows in which there was a spill on the first turn. She came right back to beat allowance foes, then lost by only three-quarters of a length to A B Noodle in the Bay Meadows Oaks.

After an unsuccessful southern excursion, she ran twice at Bay Meadows, finishing sixth in the Palo Alto on the dirt Oct. 19.

Hilling believes a horse can lose confidence and says an owner has two options in situations such as the one Doc's Lil Angel faces.

"One of the things you can do is turn a horse out, or you can make a drastic drop so that even if a horse is not on its best game it can compete," he said.

With winter coming and the possibility of turf racing limited, Hilling said part of the reason to run in the Palo Alto was to assess Doc's Lil Angel's options of running on the dirt.

"Now is the time to get her back on the grass," Hilling said. "We've got a chance to run against horses she's already beat."

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