02/06/2004 1:00AM

Action This Day isn't the play in Sham Stakes


PHOENIX - When juvenile champ Action This Day resurfaces in Sunday's Sham Stakes at Santa Anita, the question is, which horse shows up? Do we get the horse who so dramatically won the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, or the one who in his debut just plugged along to be a non-threatening second?

Considering Action This Day's layoff of more than three months and the 1 1/8-mile distance of the Sham, it could go either way.

Even Action This Day's trainer Dick Mandella isn't certain. After a strong seven-furlong work in 1:25.40 by Action This Day last Saturday, Mandella said, "He worked very nice. He's ready to go." Mandella then cautioned that Action This Day could come up short. "He probably needs one," he said.

Remember, too, that Action This Day was originally supposed to reappear in the 1 1/16-mile Santa Catalina on Jan. 17, but Mandella felt the colt needed a bit more time to prepare for his 2004 debut. Mandella added that the added sixteenth of the Sham helps Action This Day. But again, he voiced caution: "He ain't cranked yet, but he's ready to run."

Trainer Bob Baffert, who will send out two to challenge in Preachinatthebar and Totally Platinum, doesn't sound as convinced that Action This Day isn't ready.

"Right now, Action This Day is the horse, and Richard Mandella has the horse ready to fire," Baffert said.

Ready or not, the action this day should be against Action This Day. This is no knock on the horse - he's a deserving champ, a horse who by virtue of pedigree and style should relish the distance of the Sham. But he is a horse who hasn't run in a while and who has Mandella thinking about the first Saturday in May. Mandella would probably be thrilled to see Action This Day finish strongly, even if it was in defeat.

That translates into taking a shot against Action This Day, who figures to be favored in the Sham.

Of his opponents, Master David, seems more reputation than achievement. His second in the Grade 2 Remsen last winter was decent, but hardly anything to get worked up over, and he seems to have garnered attention simply from moving into trainer Bobby Frankel's care. He ran on decently to be third in the Santa Catalina, but was no real threat to winner St Averil or runner-up Lucky Pulpit, and he beat Preachinatthebar by only a head.

Preachinatthebar and Totally Platinum are nice, but don't get the pulse racing.

So on Sunday, Borrego is the play.

He looked like he was going to be just another turf horse for trainer Beau Greely. He won his maiden routing on turf at Santa Anita in October in his second career start. He was wheeled back in the Grade 3 Generous on the Hollywood turf Nov. 29 and finished eighth.

Greely decided to give dirt a whirl. Being by El Prado, the same sire as Medaglia d'Oro, Borrego is bred to handle both surfaces. Facing the likes of Dwango, Point Dume, and the highly touted Baffert pair of Misty'sgoldentouch and Totally Platinum, Borrego won a 1 1/16-mile allowance race on the main track here on Dec. 27. He did it stylishly.

Borrego took his time early and pulled his way up along the rail on the backstretch. He took dirt in the face and was bottled up briefly along the rail. Borrego swung out on the far turn and kept what must have been a half-mile run going for the handy win.

Considering his relative inexperience and that it was his first start on dirt, it was a terrific performance. The Beyer Speed Figure wasn't bad either - 93.

Greely has taken his time with Borrego since that race. He could have wheeled him back in the Grade 2 Santa Catalina a couple weeks ago, but opted to wait. The horse has since worked in solid, steady fashion.

So, with Action This Day maybe needing the race and going off at around 7-5, and Master David still having something to prove while being bet down to 3-1 or so, it's Borrego at possibly 9-2 or more that will represent my action this day.