03/08/2007 1:00AM

Air Commander's plans change


ARCADIA, Calif. - Air Commander, the winner of an allowance race at 1 1/8 miles here last Sunday, will make his stakes debut in the $250,000 San Felipe Stakes at 1 1/16 miles on March 17, trainer Bob Baffert said on Thursday.

After last weekend's win, Baffert said he would point Air Commander for the $750,000 Santa Anita Derby on April 7, but he has changed his mind and will run Air Commander in the San Felipe next, saying the colt needs more experience in major stakes.

"The [allowance] race turned out perfect; he didn't have to run hard," Baffert said. "I need two more runs and I don't want to ship him."

Baffert said the Santa Anita Derby is still on Air Commander's schedule. "If he can't run one, two, or three in the Santa Anita Derby, he doesn't need to go to the Kentucky Derby," he said.

Air Commander has won 2 of 4 starts and $72,200. By Point Given, the colt beat maidens in his third start, a race over 1 1/16 miles on Feb. 4.

In the San Felipe, Air Commander will face Cobalt Blue, the winner of an allowance race for sprinters on Feb. 14 in his 3-year-old debut. Cobalt Blue, will be ridden by leading rider Garrett Gomez in the San Felipe, trainer Doug O'Neill said. Gomez was aboard for the colt's win on Feb. 14.

"This race could be a great stepping-stone for us to find out if he's a Derby-caliber horse," O'Neill said.

No Derby for Les Grands Trois

Les Grands Trois remained unbeaten after two starts with a win in an allowance race at 6 1/2 furlongs on Wednesday, but trainer Bobby Frankel said the Kentucky Derby is not the focus for this colt.

Les Grands Trois is more likely to start in the $150,000 Withers Stakes over a mile for 3-year-olds at Aqueduct on April 28, Frankel said on Thursday.

"It would be hard to think of it," Frankel said of the Derby. "You have to ruin a horse. A lot of good horses get ruined [trying to get to the Derby]."

Owned by Live Oak Plantation, Les Grands Trois was making his first start on Wednesday since returning from a layoff of more than seven months caused by a bone chip in an ankle.

A nine-length winner of a maiden race at Belmont Park last July, Les Grands Trois closed from 2 1/2 lengths off the pace on the turn to beat Abalanche by a length in Wednesday's seventh race. He ran the 6 1/2 furlongs in a quick 1:16.06.

"He hit another gear," Frankel said of the stretch run.

The victory gave Frankel his 869th career win at the Santa Anita winter-spring meeting, which equals the all-time mark held by Charlie Whittingham.

Lava Man's next start still undecided

A decision on the next race for two-time Santa Anita Handicap winner Lava Man may not be made until next weekend, said O'Neill, who trains him.

Lava Man, who became the third horse to win consecutive runnings of the Big Cap on March 3, is being pointed for the $5 million Dubai Duty Free at Nad Al Sheba on March 31 or the $500,000 Woodford Reserve Turf Classic at Churchill Downs on May 5.

O'Neill said the plane to Dubai leaves on March 20.

"So we've got another week to decide," he said.

The two horses that finished closest behind Lava Man - Molengao and Boboman - are staying in Southern California.

Molengao's long-term goal is the $750,000 Hollywood Gold Cup on June 30, trainer Paulo Lobo said.

Boboman, the winner of the Grade 1 Hollywood Turf Cup in December, made his first start on dirt in the Big Cap. He is likely to return to turf for the $200,000 San Luis Rey Handicap over 1 1/2 miles on turf on March 24, trainer Richard Mandella said.

Boboman trains regularly on Hollywood Park's synthetic surface and Mandella would like to try the horse in the Gold Cup in June.

Chavez shaken up, takes day off

Jockey Jorge Chavez was hospitalized briefly on Thursday morning after a horse he was about to work flipped on him at Santa Anita. According to his agent, Tommy Ball, Chavez had no broken bones but was advised to take the day off.

Through Wednesday, Chavez, 45, was sixth in the standings with 19 wins.

Tough Tiz's Sis not going in Oaks

Tough Tiz's Sis, the winner of an optional claimer on Feb. 25, will not run in the $300,000 Santa Anita Oaks on Sunday. She will be pointed for the $200,000 WinStar Sunland Park Oaks in New Mexico on March 18.

"This race is too tough," said Baffert, who trains the filly.

The Oaks field is led by Rags to Riches. Other probable starters include Baroness Thatcher, Cash Included, Runway Rosie, and Silver Swallow.

Gryder rides 3,000th winner

Jockey Aaron Gryder won the 3,000th race of his career, aboard Pressthepace in Wednesday's eighth race.

Gryder rode his 2,999th winner last Friday. He lost aboard his next 23 starts before leading throughout on Pressthepace ($19.60).

Said Gryder, who grew up in nearby West Covina, Calif., "It's fun to do it here in front of the mountains where I grew up."

Through Wednesday, Gryder was fourth in the jockey standings at the meeting with 27 wins.