02/28/2003 1:00AM

Winning Stripes will take a shot

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ALBANY, Calif. - Derby Fever comes to northern California with next Saturday's running of the El Camino Real Derby at Golden Gate Fields.

The Grade 3, $200,000 race has been one of the most productive preps on the Triple Crown trail with the likes of Charismatic and Tabasco Cat, both of whom won two-thirds of the Triple Crown, included among the winners.

This year's edition of the 1 1/16-mile El Camino Real is filled with promise as 21 3-year-olds were nominated. The prospective field includes Minister's Wild Cat and Robledo, both of whom are listed in Daily Racing Form's Derby Watch.

Also scheduled to run is local favorite Winning Stripes, who was second, beaten 1 1/4 lengths by Minister's Wild Cat in the Golden State Mile.

"I realize he's going to be a price," said trainer William Morey Jr., who did not include Winning Stripes among the early nominees to the Triple Crown.

"He got a good Beyer number last time. We're climbing up the ladder, and we'll have to improve a little bit more. I feel he's still up and coming. I wish he were a little bigger, but he's got a pretty good heart to him."

Morey notes that the winner's erratic run in the stretch was a bit intimidating to his colt and rider Frank Alvarado.

"If he hadn't been intimidated, he at least would have been closer. Our horse and rider were trying to figure out which way [Minister's Wild Cat] was going to go instead of just taking a lane and running in it," Morey said.

A $50,000 Del Mar yearling purchase, Winning Stripes has progressed nicely with wins on both turf and dirt. But Morey said he was concerned about him when he first arrived in his barn.

"If you'd seen some of his earlier workouts, you couldn't quite believe you were looking at a horse with a 90 Beyer," Morey said. "He was a poor work horse by himself, but in the afternoon he brings the level up."

Morey isn't looking beyond this race but noted, "The 3-year-old year is the best year for a horse because there are so many options.

"We all live with dreams. We're excited to take a shot."

o Eight older fillies and mares meet in Sunday's feature, a one-mile $50,000 optional claimer on the turf. Chic Domestique was second and Planoncometbebopin a fast-finishing fourth in their last starts Jan. 20. In a slower split of that race, Thunder and Rain was third after setting the pace, Half Fare fourth, and Redmond fifth.