02/28/2002 1:00AM

Allowance sprinters won't get a breather

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ARCADIA, Calif. - One of the best races on Saturday's card at Santa Anita is not a major stakes. Three hours before the Santa Anita Handicap, Crafty C.T. and D'wildcat, both stakes winners in 2001, face off in a $54,000 allowance race/optional claimer over six furlongs.

Both colts are considered candidates for important sprint races this year, but their trainers were hoping to launch their 2002 campaigns in easier spots.

"It's the toughest allowance race in America," said Bob Hess Jr., who trains D'wildcat.

D'wildcat makes his first start since winning the Swale Stakes at Gulfstream Park last March by 10 1/2 lengths. Crafty C.T., the winner of the Grade 2 San Rafael Stakes and the third-place finisher in the Santa Anita Derby, makes his first start since August. Last summer, he ran poorly in two allowance races.

Trained by Howard Zucker, Crafty C.T. has worked well in the last month, including five furlongs in 56.60 seconds last Saturday.

"He's ready to run," Zucker said. "My only concern was he worked too fast last week."

Hess considered Sunday's Grade 1 San Carlos Handicap over seven furlongs for D'Wildcat, but opted for the allowance race.

"We think he'll be a top seven-furlong horse, but racing seven-eighths off a layoff is not an ideal situation," he said.

The allowance race is the fourth race on an 11-race program that features a $1 million guaranteed pick six pool in races 6 through 11. First post time is noon Pacific.

Tabor confident about plan for Johannesburg

Johannesburg, the champion 2-year-old of 2001, remains on schedule for the Kentucky Derby, according to owner Michael Tabor, who was in the Santa Anita stable area Thursday.

"The Kentucky Derby is the objective," Tabor said. "Absolutely."

Co-owned by Susan Magnier, Johannesburg is unbeaten in seven starts, including a convincing victory by 1 1/4 lengths in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile last October at Belmont Park. The Breeders' Cup was Johannesburg's first start on dirt, preceded by six wins in turf sprints in Ireland, England, and France.

Tabor said he has not discussed Johannesburg's recent development with trainer Aidan O'Brien, but said he would become more active in the colt's development later this month.

"It's a little early to get a grip with it," Tabor said. "I don't get involved until later in March, then I'll ask the questions."

Tabor said the current plan is for Johannesburg to have a prep race in the seven-furlong Gladness Stakes at The Curragh in Ireland on April 7. It is expected to be his only start before the Kentucky Derby on May 4.

"It won't be easy, but at the end of the day, you trust a horse with a trainer," he said.

Tabor was speaking outside of trainer Patrick Biancone's barn, where Mayakovsky was cooling out after a six-furlong workout in 1:10.80, the fastest of 19 recorded works at the distance. A Kentucky Derby candidate in his own right, Mayakovsky is being prepared for the Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct or the San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita on March 17.

Double DQ doesn't affect Casey Griffin

Casey Griffin won a roughly-run Reb's Policy Handicap on the hillside turf course on Wednesday, adding a new dimension to his career.

But it was not until the stewards completed a 12-minute inquiry, and disqualified two horses that finished out of the top three, that the 6-year-old Casey Griffin walked into the winner's circle.

Trained by Vladimir Cerin for David and Holly Wilson, Casey Griffin ($36.80) finished a length in front of 16-1 Devine Wind, who was a neck in front of 5-2 favorite Lake William. Astonished, who finished fourth, was disqualified and placed sixth, while Touch of the Blues was disqualified from sixth to seventh. Both were cited for causing interference in mid-stretch.

Nuclear Debate had the worst trip. He had a rough trip through the stretch and nearly fell. He was moved up to fifth after the disqualifications.

The Reb's Policy was Casey Griffin's first win in a turf sprint. Cerin said he will be pointed for the $125,000 San Simeon Handicap on April 21, the closing day of the meeting

* Sunday Break, the impressive winner of an allowance race for 3-year-olds on Feb. 22, breezed three furlongs in 39 seconds on Thursday. He could make his stakes debut this month in the San Felipe Stakes.

* Thursday's first race was one for the senior citizens. In a $10,000 claimer over 5 1/2 furlongs, the 12-year-old Copelan's Eagle outfinished the 10-year-old Nor'easter by a neck.