03/26/2003 12:00AM

Western Pride iffy at 120 lbs.


ALBANY, Calif. - Trainer James Chapman was happy when he called Golden Gate Fields and found a one-mile race for Western Pride.

The $100,000, Grade 3 Berkeley Handicap is scheduled for Saturday, and that looked like a perfect comeback spot for Western Pride, who has earned more than $1 million but hasn't run since last May in Singapore.

But Chapman wasn't so happy when he saw the weight assignments for the race. Western Pride was given 120 pounds, while local star Halo Cat, who has won two straight overnight stakes, was given 117.

"I was looking for a flat mile," Chapman said. "He's back 100 percent, and he's going to run really good."

But he may not run Saturday with 120 pounds.

"He hasn't run in nearly a year, and they've got him carrying more weight than a horse who's won a lot of races," Chapman said. "That's too much weight to start the year with. He could end up a Breeders' Cup horse, but if you start at 120 and win, where do they put him next? They'll be judging off that."

The 5-year-old Western Pride was ninth, beaten 21 1/4 lengths in the Dubai World Cup and 11th, beaten 15 1/2 lengths in the Singapore Airlines International Cup in his last two starts.

However, he was second in last year's Santa Anita Handicap and won the Grade 2 San Fernando. He earned $718,199 as a 3-year-old and won the West Virginia, Ohio and Calder derbies.

"It's what's happened recently," Chapman said, complaining about the weight assignment.

"I'll start looking for something else. If I can't find anything, I might come, but it's less than 50-50."

The Berkeley will be a comeback for Palmeiro, who was third in the race last year and later won the Grade 3 All-American at Bay Meadows. He has not run since bleeding in the Grade 2 San Diego Handicap at Del Mar last Aug. 4.

"He's trained well but doesn't have any conditions left down here," trainer John Sadler said from his Santa Anita barn.

"The mile is a very good distance for him. We don't have anything down here but the San Bernadino, and the mile and an eighth is too far.

"He's run well both times we sent him up there, and he really loves Hollywood Park so it would be nice to have a run into him before that meet opens."

Chance Rollins will ride Palmeiro, carrying 117 pounds.

Skip to the Stone, Cottage, I'madrifter, and Rhetoric Express are also expected to run.