02/04/2004 1:00AM

Baffert hopes one will step up


ARCADIA, Calif. - The two stakes run for 3-year-olds at Santa Anita this weekend may determine whether trainer Bob Baffert has a top-notch candidate for the Triple Crown preps this spring.

Baffert has won the Kentucky Derby three times but has yet to reveal a standout 3-year-old this year.

Saturday's $150,000 San Vicente Stakes and Sunday's $75,000 Sham Stakes could help sort through some of Baffert's hopefuls, but Baffert is downplaying the importance of the two races.

"It's an important month," he said. "Not a weekend, a month."

Baffert will start Teton Forest in Saturday's $150,000 San Vicente Stakes over seven furlongs. Teton Forest has started only once, beating maidens Jan. 3.

Preachinatthebar and Totally Platinum will start Sunday in the $75,000 Sham Stakes, a race that features the 3-year-old debut of Action This Day, the champion 2-year-old male of 2003.

Preachinatthebar beat maidens in his fourth career start at Hollywood Park on Dec. 17 and returned to finish fourth in the Grade 2 Santa Catalina Stakes on Jan. 17. Totally Platinum has one victory in seven starts, an optional claimer over 1 1/16 miles Dec. 27. The Sham is his stakes debut.

Baffert speaks highly of Teton Forest, who is owned by B. Wayne Hughes. Teton Forest was near the lead throughout the seven-furlong maiden race Jan. 3, drawing clear to win by 1 1/2 lengths.

"He doesn't run like a sprinter; that's why I was surprised that he won," Baffert said. "I knew he was doing well, but it was the way he did it. He wasn't blowing very hard. That's a good sign."

For the San Vicente, Baffert also nominated Coldntight, Consecrate, Courageous Act, and Odds On, but on Wednesday did not consider them to be potential starters. He nominated Bornwithit, Courageous Act, and Wimbledon for the Sham Stakes.

Odds On, unraced since being pulled up in the Grade 2 Norfolk Stakes on Oct. 5, worked six furlongs in 1:12.40 from the gate Wednesday, the fastest of 23 recorded works at the distance.

Baffert's 3-year-old team also includes the maiden Diamond Fury, a $2.7 million purchase at a 2-year-olds in training sale last March; Coronado's Pride, a maiden who may start Saturday; and Cooperation, second in the Hollywood Prevue in November.

None are stakes winners. Baffert would not rank his 3-year-old crop or list a favorite Wednesday.

"I've got some nice 3-year-olds," Baffert said. "I won't say what I like and don't like. I'm letting them sort themselves out."

Baffert says the races of the next six weeks are only the foundation for the major stakes in early April, the last races before the Kentucky Derby.

"The last prep is the whole story," he said. "At a mile and a sixteenth, they're all right there, but at a mile and an eighth, you start stretching that rubber band."

Because Baffert has a reputation for Triple Crown success, he faces scrutiny each winter as the Triple Crown preps are run. Following Kentucky Derby wins by Silver Charm (1997), Real Quiet (1998), and War Emblem (2002), Baffert's stable is expected to have important horses in 3-year-old races.

"If I talk about a horse, everyone gets on my case," he said.

Teton Forest will not be favored in the San Vicente. That role that will go to the undefeated Hosco.

Action This Day will be favored in the Sham Stakes, run over 1 1/8 miles.

"You see the picture change every week," said Baffert. "Right now, Action This Day is the horse, and Richard Mandella has the horse ready to fire. He's got him ready."

Strub Stakes probables work

Three probables for Saturday's $300,000 Strub Stakes for 4-year-olds worked a half-mile Wednesday.

Buddy Gil, the winner of the 2003 Santa Anita Derby, breezed in 48 seconds, Domestic Dispute breezed in 48.20, and Eye of the Tiger worked in 48.60.

The field is led by During, who won the San Fernando Breeders' Cup Stakes on Jan. 10. Other probables include Buckland Manor, Formal Attire, Saint Buddy, and Toccet.

Krone finally returns

Julie Krone, who has not ridden since suffering upper chest injuries in a two-horse spill at Hollywood Park on Dec. 12, worked three horses Wednesday, her first day back in the saddle. Krone hopes to ride by the weekend, or Wednesday at the latest.

Krone worked the maiden Emeritus for Mandella, who went in company with Minister Eric, the runner-up in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile on Oct. 25.

The pair worked in 1:04.20, which was approximately four seconds slower than Mandella would have preferred. Mandella said Minister Eric could return for another workout a day earlier than normal because of the slow time.

Minister Eric underwent surgery to have a bone chip removed from an ankle and knee following the Breeders' Cup. Mandella said Minister Eric is still on the Kentucky Derby trail.

Court may join local colony

Jockey Jon Court, a journeyman who rides most of the year in Kentucky, may relocate to Southern California this spring.

Court has been in Southern California for the last two weekends. On Jan. 24, he won the $500,000 Sunshine Millions Filly and Mare Turf aboard Valentine Dancer. He was aboard Fleetstreet Dancer on Saturday for a third-place finish in the San Antonio Handicap.

Last weekend, Court said he has held discussions with jockey's agents in California about a possible move.

"Nothing is set in stone," said Court. "I've been talking to some of the agents here, some of the guys who are established."

Trainer Doug O'Neill has suggested to Court that he move in time for the Hollywood Park spring-summer meeting, which begins April 21.

"I think he'll give it a shot when Hollywood starts," O'Neill said.

Congaree points to Carter

Congaree, who finished last of four in the Grade 2 San Antonio Handicap last Saturday, is likely to make his next start in the $350,000 Carter Handicap over seven furlongs at Aqueduct on April 10.

Congaree, 6, has won three major stakes at a mile or less in his career, including the 2003 Carter. In an effort to gain a championship, Congaree is likely to be kept to sprints this year, Baffert said.

Owned by Stonerside Stable, Congaree was a nominee for champion older male and champion sprinter in 2003.