10/24/2006 11:00PM

The all-time California team


ARCADIA, Calif. - The idea of the California Cup, to be presented at Santa Anita on Saturday for the 17th time, is to offer a showcase for the Western breed and encourage the production of horses like Lava Man and Brother Derek, both of them good enough to try the Breeders' Cup instead.

It is an admirable goal, and Californians have been at the Breeders' Cup many times. Still, the fact remains that a four-legged native of the Great Golden State has managed to win only two of the 161 Breeders' Cup races contested since the series began. Those two winners were both named Tiznow.

Californians, though, have an active fantasy life. In that spirit, the muse was unleashed, with the simple assignment of coming up with the all-time scariest California-bred monster for each of the eight races on the modern Breeders' Cup program. Go ahead. Argue with these:

Juvenile Fillies - A Cal-bred already finished first in this one, but Fran's Valentine was disqualified from the first running at Hollywood Park in 1984, so let's not put her through that one again, even in pretend. Anyway, the best 2-year-old filly ever produced in California was probably June Darling.

June Darling was a foal of 1968 bred by Ellwood "Pieman" Johnston and sold to Clement Hirsch during the summer of her 2-year-old season. She won four major races for trainer Warren Stute, including the Del Mar Futurity and the Norfolk Stakes against colts, and then went searching for a national championship in the Gardenia Stakes at Garden State Park. Alas, she never made it to the gate. Galloping one morning, she was spooked and flipped, sending Stute to the hospital and ending her career.

Juvenile - Some very good 2-year-old Cal-bred colts and geldings have tried to win this one, including Best Pal, Bertrando, and Brother Derek. Flying Paster came along too soon, so we'll never know how he would have fared, except for the fact that Spectacular Bid was also 2 at the same time.

Anyway, Flying Paster never could travel. Snow Chief, on the other hand, won major races in Florida, Arkansas, and Maryland during his career. It would have been entertaining to see how he would have stacked up against Tasso and Storm Cat in the 1985 Juvenile at Aqueduct, at an ideal one-turn mile.

Filly and Mare Turf - Cal-bred Brown Bess, the Eclipse Award winner among turf mares in 1989, reigned before there was a Breeders' Cup race in her division. Even so, her staying power seemed stretched beyond 1 1/4 miles. That is why the selection in this bracket dips back into the early 1970's, when Hill Circus was queen of the California grass for George Pope.

Like many of Pope's best runners, Hill Circus began her career in England, where she won the Sun Chariot Stakes, then transferred her form to California, where she took the Beverly Hills Handicap at Hollywood and defeated colts in a division of the 1972 Del Mar Handicap.

Sprint - A Cal-bred should have won this one a long time ago, and the filly Soviet Problem almost did. Maybe Bordonaro is destined to break through this year. But the Sprint can be a nasty race, so you'd better go into this battle with the biggest boat you can find. That's why the choice here is Kissin' George, a blinding fast son of Slamruler.

Trainer Buster Millerick thought Kissin' George was going to beat Dr. Fager in the 1968 Vosburgh, and Millerick was no dummy. He was wrong that day - his horse was second, beaten six - but Kissin' George proved Millerick right enough to win 13 stakes in a 62-race career.

Mile - To brew the perfect horse for this dance, why not mix one part Metropolitan Mile winner with one part San Juan Capistrano winner, shake, rattle, and roll. Has there ever been such a creature? Yep, and his name was Olden Times, a foal of 1958, bred and raced by Rex Ellsworth. Miesque, Da Hoss, Barathea, Lure - hah! Bring 'em on.

Distaff - California has been woefully represented in this race, with the best showing a second-place finish by Fran's Valentine in 1986. For fantasy's sake, let's go with Honeymoon, who was good enough to beat colts in the 1946 Hollywood Derby and finish second against older males in the Hollywood Gold Cup.

Turf - There are wise guys who will remember that Cacoethes, winner of the 1990 Turf Classic at Belmont, was a bona fide Cal-bred. He had his chance in the BC Turf, though, and could do no better than ninth.

At 1 1/2 miles on grass - or just about any kind of surface - the Cal-bred for the job is always Quicken Tree. Not only did he win a San Juan Capistrano at 14 furlongs, he also won the two-mile Jockey Club Gold Cup, the two-mile Display Handicap, the 1 1/2-mile San Luis Rey (on grass) and Manhattan Handicap (on dirt), and, just for yucks, the 1 1/4-mile Santa Anita Handicap. He'll do.

Classic - As noted, California answered the hardest question first, when Tiznow broke the ice in the 2000 Classic, then did it again in 2001. It was not a fantasy, but it was fantastic.

Still, just to be on the safe side, in an all-time Classic against the all-time best from all over the world, it might be a good idea to go with the greatest California-bred runner of all time. Tiznow, stay loose but take a knee. We're sending in Swaps for this one.