01/17/2002 12:00AM

Baffert at his best in stakes races

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ARCADIA, Calif. - The stakes horses have carried Bob Baffert's stable through the first three weeks of the Santa Anita meeting.

Through Wednesday, Baffert had seven wins, trailing Bill Spawr in the overall standings by five. In stakes, Baffert led all trainers with three wins, a number that could increase this weekend.

Though Baffert has no starters in Saturday's Santa Catalina Stakes for 3-year-olds, he has runners in major stakes on Sunday and Monday. Love at Noon runs in Sunday's El Encino Stakes over 1 1/16 miles for 4-year-old fillies. The following day, Twice as Golden is probable for the Santa Ynez Stakes.

Love at Noon was third in the Grade 1 La Brea Stakes on Dec. 29, racing near the lead until the final furlong of the seven-furlong race when she faded to finish 1 1/2 lengths behind Affluent. It was her first start since returning from an injury detected last spring after she finished second in the Dogwood Stakes at Churchill Downs and the Princess Stakes at Hollywood Park in June.

"She got a crack in a splint bone on Derby Day," Baffert said. "It was aggravating her. I decided to stop on her."

A win by Love at Noon in the El Encino would boost the standing of older fillies and mares in Baffert's barn.

The El Encino is expected to include Affluent, Graceful Cat, Royally Chosen, and Sea Reel.

Twice as Golden will be a longer price in the Santa Ynez Stakes for 3-year-olds fillies. She worked five furlongs in 59.60 seconds on Thursday, the third fastest of 72 works at the distance.

El Camino Real next for 'Bluegrass'

Baffert has finalized plans for the 3-year-olds Danthebluegrassman and Hawk's Top Gun, who won in the last week.

Danthebluegrassman won the Golden Gate Derby on Jan. 12 and will be pointed for the $200,000 El Camino Real Derby at Golden Gate Fields on March 9.

Hawk's Top Gun won a seven-furlong allowance race by a head over Stormy Forever on Wednesday. Ridden by Mike Smith, he was timed in 1:23.22.

Baffert said the restricted $75,000 Sham Stakes on Feb. 8 at Santa Anita is likely for Hawk's Top Gun.

Old Money wins U.S. debut

Old Money may have only tipped her potential with a victory in her U.S. debut in Wednesday's seventh race.

An import from Australia, where she won three stakes in a span of 17 days in December 2000, Old Money ran a mile in 1:35.19, finishing 1 1/2 lengths in front of longtime pacesetter Queen of Wilshire.

Trainer Ron McAnally said she may return for the Buena Vista Handicap over a mile on turf on Feb. 18.

A 5-year-old, Old Money is one of three turf top-class mares trained by McAnally and owned by Robert and Janice McNair. Kalatiara, a stakes winner at Hollywood Park last July who was imported from Australia, finished third in Wednesday's allowance race. Tout Charmant won the Grade 2 San Gorgonio Handicap last Sunday and will stay in training this year, McAnally said.

Keeping them apart may be difficult in coming months, especially the ex-Australians Kalatiara and Old Money, who are capable of running a mile to 1 1/4 miles on turf.

"They beat each other in Australia and they'll do it again," McAnally said.

A rare two-time maiden winner

Saying Grace won a maiden race for the second time in her career on Wednesday.

Three days after Santa Anita stewards issued a ruling disqualifying * from a maiden win at Del Mar last summer due to a positive drug test, owner Calvin Nguyen and trainer Richard Baltas took advantage of their first opportunity to start Saying Grace against non-winners.

Breaking from the rail against nine others, Saying Grace rallied in the final furlong to win by a head. The victory gave Baltas a sense of vindication and a chance to recover the $1,500 he was fined after Saying Grace tested positive for amphetamines. Five other horses and trainers were fined for the same violation, resulting in the redistribution of $89,100 in purses.

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