10/25/2001 11:00PM

Baze among four finalists for Woolf Award


ARCADIA, Calif. - Four jockeys who have combined for more than 17,000 wins have been named finalists for the 2002 George Woolf Memorial Jockey Award - Russell Baze, Robbie Davis, Larry Melancon, and Ray Sibille. The annual award, presented by Santa Anita, recognizes jockeys "whose careers have reflected credit on themselves and their sport."

Baze, 43, ranks fourth on racing's all-time win list with more than 7,500 wins. Inducted into the Racing Hall of Fame in 1999, Baze has won 45 consecutive riding titles in northern California. Davis, 40, is based in New York and has more than 3,300 wins. He has won eight riding titles at Aqueduct. Melancon, 46, has won more than 2,400 races. The nation's leading apprentice in 1972, Melancon is Churchill Downs's fifth-leading all-time rider. Sibille, 49, has won more than 4,100 races. Winner of the 1988 Breeders' Cup Turf on Great Communicator, Sibille is one of the leading riders on the Chicago circuit.

This is the 53rd year for the Woolf Award, which memorializes the jockey known as The Iceman. Woolf was killed in a Santa Anita riding accident Jan. 3, 1946. Since 1985, jockeys across the country have voted to select the Woolf winner from nominations made by the Jockey's Guild and Santa Anita. Past winners include Bill Shoemaker, Laffit Pincay Jr., Chris McCarron, Pat Day, Angel Cordero Jr., and Jerry Bailey. The winner of the 2002 Woolf Award will be announced in January.

Fourth Cal Cup for Native Desert

Trainer Juan Garcia announced Friday that two-time California Cup Distaff winner Chichim has been retired, but the California Cup will have a familiar look Saturday when Garcia-trained Native Desert runs in the Mile for the fourth time. Native Desert, an 8-year-old gelding, worked six furlongs Friday in 1:13.20 and will try to win the Mile for the second time.

"He's ready, he acts like he's the same horse," Garcia said after the work. Foot problems have prevented Native Desert from racing since a dead-heat win Sept. 3 at Bay Meadows. Owned by Miguel Rubio, Native Desert has won 18 races and more than $1.4 million from 60 starts. He finished third in the 1998 Cal Cup Mile, won the race in 1999, and finished second last year.

Chichim, winner of the Cal Cup Distaff the last two years, retires with six wins and earnings of $387,938 from 24 starts for owner-breeder Marianne Millard. Garcia trained Chichim throughout her career. "She had a problem that would take too long to [recover from]. She's done her job, so we're going to breed her," said Garcia.

The California Cup on Saturday is a 10-race, $1.275 million program for California-breds. Early favorites for the seven stakes are: Romanceishope and Irisheyesareflying in the $250,000 Classic; Native Desert and Spinelessjellyfish in the $175,000 Mile; Ceeband and Men's Exclusive in the $150,000 Sprint; Feverish and Jeweled Pirate in the $150,000 Matron; Global and Fair Apache in the $150,000 Distaff; Coconut Mango and Pick of the Valley in the Juvenile; and Martial's Princess and White-winesipper in the $125,000 Juvenile Fillies.

Optimistic prognosis

Striking Song, knocked out of the Breeders' Cup Juvenile with a chipped hind ankle, could return sooner than originally reported. The $1.4 million Striking Song, impressive winner of a one-mile maiden race Oct. 8, is scheduled for arthroscopic surgery early next week and may be back in training as early as February according to trainer Bob Hess.

Owned by Fog City Stable, Striking Song earned a 100 Beyer winning the maiden race in 1:35.90, but sustained a chip in his left hind ankle in a five-furlong work Oct. 20. The typical recovery period following surgery for a chipped ankle is 60 to 90 days. "The good thing is he's broken his maiden, and he's already gone two turns," Hess said. "Does he do a Congaree and come back [in early March]? If not, maybe he's our Travers horse."

Still speedy at age 11

After an 0-for-13 campaign in 2000, the 11-year-old gelding Copelan's Eagle has gained a new lease on life. In race 8 Thursday at Santa Anita, a $10,000 claimer at 5 1/2 furlongs, the veteran romped to a four-length win while under wraps throughout. It was his third win from 12 starts this year, and 14th win from 66 starts overall.

Trainer A.C. Avila claims he has discovered the secret to Copelan's Eagle's recent success. "He wants to do everything on his own," Avila said. "If he wants to work in 47, that's okay. If he wants to work in 50, that's okay. He was doing super going into the race, and he's old, so he likes to be fresh." The race was Copelan's Eagle's first start in two months and was the fastest 5 1/2-furlong race of the meet - 1:02.78.

Copelan's Eagle, a gelding by Copelan, was bred by Farrell Jones. On Friday morning, Jones called Avila to congratulate him. "He said that was the best [Copelan's Eagle] has ever looked," Avila said. Copelan's Eagle might not start again until the winter meet at Santa Anita.