01/07/2003 1:00AM

Atswhatimtalknbout all the buzz

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ARCADIA, Calif. - After only one start, Atswhatimtalknbout has become the most talked about 3-year-old in Southern California. The A.P. Indy colt stormed from last to first on Saturday, winning a six-furlong maiden race by a half-length in 1:10.30 and earning a Beyer Speed Figure of 86.

On Tuesday, only three days after his electrifying debut, Atswhatimtalknbout was ready for more at trainer Ron Ellis's barn.

Usually, said Ellis, he would walk a horse for three days following a race and then bring the horse back to the track on the fourth day. But Atswhatimtalknbout had already recovered from the race by Tuesday.

"He's such a good-feeling horse we're going to ride him around a little bit," Ellis said Tuesday.

Owned by B. Wayne Hughes, Atswhatimtalknbout will stretch to two turns against allowance company for his next start. Considering the powerful finish he uncorked in his sprint, and his gallop-out, the colt figures to appreciate the longer distance. In the allowance, he is likely to face Ten Most Wanted, who earned a 74 Beyer winning a two-turn maiden race Sunday.

While Atswhatimtalknbout is the star for Ellis and Hughes, he has competition. Popularize, an unraced 3-year-old by Pulpit, has shown a world of ability in his workouts.

"I'm not one of those guys who says I have another one back in the barn that's better," Ellis said, "but . . ."

Popularize worked five furlongs Monday in 59.80 seconds.

"There are things about him that I like a lot," Ellis said. "I don't want to compare the two, but [Popularize] acts like he has a little more speed, and he acts like he has some quality."

Ellis added that an Unbridled colt named Roger That is also showing early promise.

Congaree's next: Anything except the Donn

Bob Baffert is keeping all options open for Congaree, who re-established himself as one of the country's top handicap horses with his six-length romp in the San Pasqual Handicap on Saturday. "Everything's a possibility," Baffert said Tuesday, "the Big Cap, the Dubai World Cup. The only race that has been ruled out is the Donn Handicap."

Baffert said Congaree's right leg was scraped from a bumping incident with Hot Market at the start of the San Pasqual, but that the wound was not considered serious. Despite the start, Congaree relaxed perfectly under Jerry Bailey, while conserving his energy behind the slow pace. "If you drop his head, he relaxes, and if he relaxes, his future is bright," Baffert said.

Plans also are open for the Baffert-trained Santa Ysabel winner Atlantic Ocean, who is eligible for the $250,000 Sunshine Millions Oaks, a seven-furlong race for 3-year-old fillies Jan. 25 at Santa Anita.

Meanwhile, Baffert's star 3-year-old Vindication worked a half-mile in 47.80 seconds Monday.

"He went nice, he broke off behind some horses," Baffert said. "He wanted to catch them but we wouldn't let him. It was just a little something. He wanted to do more."

Hot Market set up for Millions

With a $1 million purse to shoot for in three weeks, there was little reason for Hot Market to run to the point of exhaustion Saturday in the Grade 3 San Pasqual Handicap. Instead, Hot Market pressed an unusually slow pace and finished third by six lengths.

Trainer Craig Lewis said Tuesday the front-running gray remains on target for the $1 million Sunshine Millions Classic on Jan. 25 at Gulfstream Park.

Lewis was pleased with Hot Market's San Pasqual, and he called the winner, Congaree, "the best handicap horse in the world."

"[Hot Market] came out of the race okay. We'll know more when we get him back training," Lewis said.

In fact, Hot Market figures as one of the favorites in the Classic, and his race in the San Pasqual might turn out to be a perfect prep.

Nicole's Pursuit, Excessive Barb updates

Two other Lewis-trained Sunshine Millions candidates face questions - Nicole's Pursuit for the $350,000 Filly-Mare Turf and Excessive Barb for the $250,000 Dash. Both races are at Gulfstream.

Nicole's Pursuit, winner of the California Cup Distance Handicap in November, finished fifth as the 5-2 favorite in her comeback Saturday in the Pro or Con Handicap.

"It was very disappointing," Lewis said. "The only excuse I can give her is that she might have been a little too fresh. She just threw in a clunker. The only other excuse is this turf course really favors horses that finish."

Excessive Barb, runner-up in the California Cup Juvenile on Nov. 2, battled sore shins this fall and is running out of time to make the seven-furlong Dash for 3-year-olds. A Tuesday morning workout fizzled when Excessive Barb was not ridden to the finish, possibly because of tender feet.