02/07/2004 12:00AM

Wixoe Express wins Tanforan Handicap

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ALBANY, Calif. - Wixoe Express ($21.40) sat just behind pacesetter Expresso Bay and was much the best late as he scored a two-length victory over longshot Aly Bubba to win the $84,900 Tanforan Handicap at Golden Gate Fields on Saturday.

Wixoe Express had pulled almost even with Expresso Bay as the pair left the quarter pole, but he drifted out and fell back at the head of the lane. Once he got straightened away, he responded nicely and proved best after repelling a brief bid by Aly Bubba. Favored Gold Ruckus rallied for third with Expresso Bay holding fourth by a nose over Club Forty One. The winning time was 1:45.35 for 1 1/16 miles over a soft turf course.

Wixoe Express, who dropped into the claiming ranks after coming to the United States last year, has been a bit of a problem horse. He refused to break in his U.S. debut and balked in his second start. He broke very slowly in his other four starts as well, but broke well Saturday.

"He bounced out of there like a pro," Jockey Matt Garcia said. "(Trainer) Neil (Drysdale), his barn, the starters have all done a lot of hard work with this horse, and it's paid off."

Garcia, who has now ridden Wixoe Express three times, has plenty to do with the 5-year-old gelding's success. He won a $50,000 claimer two back and was second, beaten three-quarters of a length by Expresso Bay in an $80,000 claimer in his last start.

Garcia has a simple explanation for his success with the gelding.

"This is the kind of horse you have to ask. You don't tell him. He will fight you," Garcia said. "He did everything perfect. When I wanted him to slow down, he slowed down. When I asked him to go faster, he did.

"I let him do it on his own. I didn't know where he would be."

The victory, worth $51,150, was Wixoe Express' fifth in 15 starts and increased his career earnings to $116,405.