03/05/2002 1:00AM

Baffert sets Dan's plan

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ALBANY, Calif. - Trainer Bob Baffert said Tuesday that he would enter Danthebluegrassman in Saturday's $200,000, Grade 3 El Camino Real Derby at Golden Gate Fields.

is 2 for 2 at Golden Gate Fields with victories in the $55,000 Gold Rush Stakes on Dec. 15 and the $125,000, Grade 3 Golden Gate Derby on Jan. 12.

Also expected to compete in the El Camino Real Derby, northern California's premier race for 3-year-olds, are Arsen, Cappuchino, Captain Squire, Lusty Latin, Night Passion, and Yougottawanna. Several other trainers were still considering their options before Thursday's entry deadline.

"This was my plan all along," Baffert said. "My horse likes that track and has done well there."

Baffert weighed the option of running Danthebluegrassman in the $250,000, Grade 2 San Felipe Stakes on March 17 at Santa Anita. Both races are 1 1/16 miles.

Baffert knows plenty about the Triple Crown and how best to prepare a horse for Kentucky. He used the El Camino Real Derby in 1996 as a prep for Cavonnier, one of the Kentucky Derby's most unlucky losers, beaten by a nose by Grindstone after being hit in the head by another jockey's whip at the top of the stretch.

The timing of the El Camino suits Baffert's plans well.

"This gives us the option of running there, then racing again [before the Derby]," he said.

It gives the colt four weeks off before the Santa Anita Derby, if that is the path Baffert decides to take. It would mean an additional eight days of rest for Danthebluegrassman, compared to horses who go in the San Felipe and then the Santa Anita Derby.

It might also be an easier race, although Danthebluegrassman was sternly tested in the Golden Gate Derby by the improving Cappuchino.

Danthebluegrassman was an easy winner in the Gold Rush, setting fast but uncontested fractions as he beat U S S Tinosa by three lengths with Cappuchino third.

In the Golden Gate Derby, Cappuchino went for the lead early with Danthebluegrassman sitting just off him. Danthebluegrassman finally stuck his nose in front at the wire to win, both colts showing determination in the stretch battle.

Danthebluegrassman has not run since, while Cappuchino came back to beat stablemate Yougottawanna by 2 1/2 lengths in the $55,000 Golden State Mile at Golden Gate Fields on Feb. 10.

Eight go in Thursday feature

Eight fillies will contest Thursday's feature at Golden Gate Fields. The race will mark comebacks for Madison Davis, Katie My Lady, Gifted Daughter, Demo Memo, and Look Into the Past.

Stakes winner Marty's Zee looms the one to beat after finishing second in her past two starts. Linda Love and I'm a Lil Princess round out the field.