05/24/2006 11:00PM

'Writer' goes for 3 in a row

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SAN MATEO, Calif. - It is not an unkind assessment to state that the eight runners in Saturday's $60,000-added San Matean Handicap at Bay Meadows are a cut or two below the best in the game.

Each of the eight runners signed up for the 1 1/16-mile turf test is a six-figure earner, ranging from the $130,370 bankroll of Sharp Writer to the $398,438 earned by Capitano.

Despite his low bankroll, might be the sharpest horse in the race, with victories at a mile and then in the 1 3/8-mile Walnut Creek overnight stakes in his past two starts. Trainer Jerry Hollendorfer says Sharp Writer is good enough right now to overcome running at a different distance for the third straight race.

"That's not ideally the way to do things," he said. "Right now, it seems he can do what you want him to do."

has run his best races in northern California. Capitano, 5, was second two years ago in both the El Camino Real Derby and California Derby, beaten a total of less than one length. Last year he won the Rolling Green Breeders' Cup Handicap on the Golden Gate Fields turf.

In trainer Ray Bell's words, he is an "underachiever," but "very talented when he gives 100 percent."

Bell says he was a bit overmatched when he finished seventh in the Grade 2 Arcadia at Santa Anita two starts back, and probably wanted more than the one-mile distance of that race. He displaced his soft palate in the Grade 2 San Juan Capistrano last out, Bell said, and finished last of 12.

"We need to try to place him in the right places, but he's ready to run," Bell said. "We just need racing luck."

Racing luck is something didn't have when he was third in the Grade 2 San Francisco Breeders' Cup Mile in his last start, beaten two lengths by Charmo. He earned a career-best Beyer in that race and will be making his third start of the year Saturday.

"He got in a little tight along the fence last time but finished well," said Jim Cassidy, trainer of Place Cowboy. "I don't know if he would have beaten Charmo, but I thought he could have been second."

Among the other entrants are Melanyhasthepapers, winner of the Cougar Stakes in his last start; Cheroot, third in the Grade 3 Golden Gate Handicap and second in the Khaled Stakes in his past two starts; and El Don, winner of the California Turf Championship here last fall.