03/15/2006 1:00AM

A.P. Warrior starts afresh in new barn

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A.P. Warrior, a disappointment so far, makes his first start for John Shirreffs on Saturday.

ARCADIA, Calif. - Quite a bit has been expected from A.P. Warrior. Such is the yoke a $1.3 million yearling, by A.P. Indy, has hanging around his neck. By last fall, A.P. Warrior seemed on the verge of becoming one of the West Coast's top Kentucky Derby prospects. He finished only three-quarters of a length behind Brother Derek in the Norfolk Stakes, then crushed Bob and John by four lengths in an allowance race.

In the months since then, however, Brother Derek and Bob and John have continued to progress and rank as the top two 3-year-olds on the West Coast. A.P. Warrior, by contrast, has sputtered.

After A.P. Warrior's disappointing efforts in both the Hollywood Futurity, in which he was fourth, and the El Camino Real Derby, where he finished fourth again as the even-money favorite, owner Stan Fulton decided to switch trainers. In was John Shirreffs, who won last year's Kentucky Derby with Giacomo. Out was Eoin Harty, who was Bob Baffert's top assistant when Baffert won back-to-back Derbies in 1997 and '98 with Silver Charm and Real Quiet.

will make his first start for Shirreffs on Saturday, when he takes on Bob and John, who most recently won the Sham Stakes, in the Grade 2, $250,000 San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita.

A change of trainers, much like the far more common change of jockeys, is a frequent byproduct of the desire of those with a top 3-year-old to get to, and win, the Derby. Last year, Nick Zito took over the training of two outstanding prospects in Bellamy Road and High Fly. Bellamy Road, who had been trained by Michael Dickinson, subsequently won the Wood Memorial, and went off as the Derby favorite. High Fly, who had been trained by Bill White, subsequently won both the Fountain of Youth Stakes and Florida Derby.

Zito said he believes it has become far more acceptable in recent years to change trainers with Derby prospects.

"Years ago, it was unacceptable. It was an outrage," he said. "Now, I think some people believe that some trainers are good with certain types of horses, and some are not. A lot of trainers can't train every type of horse."

Feelings, as one might imagine, can get awfully raw. The spurned trainer has to placate a dissatisfied owner, especially if he still has other runners for that client. And he has to watch a rival trainer take over a horse that he and his crew had spent months preparing for the spring classics.

"If you're a basketball coach, and you get Shaq and Dwyane Wade, you feel sorry for the other coach, but you're happy for yourself," Zito said. "A trainer who loses a horse is not really happy."

But how does a trainer go about picking up where another trainer left off? Is it considered proper protocol to ask the previous trainer about the colt, or do you wing it?

"Usually trainers are good to each other and volunteer, but I've had it happen with trainers who hate my guts, and there's trainers who I've lost horses to who I hate their guts," Zito said. "It's uncomfortable, but you have to act like a pro."

In the case of A.P. Warrior, the transition was made easier, Shirreffs said, because he is on good terms with Harty.

"He told me everything he could about the horse," Shirreffs said. "I felt comfortable calling him. Mr. Fulton's racing manager, Eric Anderson, said I should go ahead and call Eoin."

A.P. Warrior has been with Shirreffs for a little over a month now. He has had four workouts, all at Hollywood Park, where Shirreffs is based; Harty is at Santa Anita.

"He's worked very well, except for his last one, when he went slow by himself," Shirreffs said, referring to a workout last Friday in which A.P. Warrior was timed in 1:17.60 for six furlongs. "When he goes by himself, he's a little on the lazy side."

Shirreffs said he does not plan to make any changes to A.P. Warrior's equipment. He will not, for instance, add blinkers.

"I don't want to add blinkers because I think he's a pretty competitive horse, and is focused, when there are horses in front of him," Shirreffs said. "The one thing I've noticed about him is that he does seem to be a

free-running horse. I don't think you want to mess around and play games with him. You don't want to take him back, or send him. Just let him do his thing."

In other Derby developments:

* There are four significant stakes races Saturday, all at 1 1/16 miles, all scheduled to be drawn on Thursday, and all of which will be shown on ESPN from 6-7:30 p.m. Eastern. The San Felipe has the most depth, with four current members of the Derby Watch top 25 slated to run. In addition to A.P. Warrior and Bob and John, others expected for the San Felipe are Point Determined and Refinery.

* The Grade 3, $200,000 Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct is headed by Keyed Entry, the unbeaten winner of the Hutcheson Stakes, who faces Achilles of Troy and Sweetnorthernsaint.

* At Oaklawn Park, the Grade 3, $300,000 Rebel Stakes features the 2006 debut of Private Vow, who won last year's Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes, as well as Lawyer Ron and Steppenwolfer, the one-two finishers in last month's Southwest Stakes.

* In the Grade 3, $250,000 Tampa Bay Derby, Bluegrass Cat faces Deputy Glitters in a rematch of the one-two finishers in last month's Sam F. Davis Stakes.