10/08/2003 12:00AM

Best of West look too slow this year

Aldebaran and other invading sprinters hold a stronger hand than the Californians.

When an army of sprinters assembled in New York, New Jersey, and Kentucky marches into California for the Breeders' Cup, it is in for a big surprise.

After all, you can't beat California speed. West Coast sprinters take no prisoners. They attack early, middle, and late. Suicidal quarter-miles in 21 seconds are followed by half-miles in 43 seconds. A California sprint race is 67 seconds of pedal-to-the-metal chaos. East Coast sprinters win? They may not even survive.

So goes provincial thinking. But a welcome surprise is in store this fall for Aldebaran, Shake You Down, and the other East and Midwest shippers aiming for the Breeders' Cup Sprint at Santa Anita. The invading party will find things a whole lot easier than usual. Local resistance? Hardly.

The California sprint division "looks like it's fallen apart a little bit," said trainer Bobby Frankel.

In fact, the division has fallen to pieces. It is one reason why the Sprint will have a decidedly East Coast flavor this year. At midweek, only four local horses were considered possible Sprint starters. All four will enter the race off losing performances in the weakly run Ancient Title Handicap - second- through fifth-place finishers Captain Squire, Bluesthestandard, Yankee Gentleman, and Zavata. Avanzado, who won the Ancient Title with a tepid 107 Beyer Figure, requires a $200,000 supplement and will not enter.

Frankel will concede no advantage when he starts Grade 1 winner Aldebaran and comebacker Midas Eyes, both of whom have been based in New York. "I would think California sprinters would have an edge, but not this year," he said. "It looks like I've got the best sprinters right here."

Eight or more other East- or Midwest-based runners will ship cross-country aiming to upset Frankel and a shallow California group. Those invaders include Cajun Beat, winner of the Kentucky Cup Sprint; Najran and Ethan Man, one-two in the highly rated Phoenix at Keeneland; unlucky Gygistar; Posse, third in the Vosburgh; Private Horde, a Grade 2 winner; Shake You Down, arguably the country's best six-furlong sprinter; and Valid Video, the King's Bishop winner, who trainer Dennis Manning said would be ridden by Edgar Prado.

Shake You Down won three graded stakes this year at six furlongs and will be supplemented to the Sprint for $90,000. Trainer Scott Lake has monitored the division. "We weren't unpleased with the developments [last weekend]," Lake said. "Anything that was the speed the last couple months, they're the ones that have tailed off."

Beau's Town is out with an injury, while leading California hopeful Yankee Gentleman finished a flat fourth on Sunday. Yankee Gentleman is still aiming for the BC Sprint, but with no graded-stakes points he is in the same boat as New York-based Gygistar. Gygistar began 2003 as one of the country's leading sprint hopefuls, but circumstances have prevented a return to peak form. Despite a troubled fourth in the Vosburgh and no points in graded stakes, trainer Mark Hennig hopes Gygistar makes it into the Sprint.

"It's unfortunate he's had an abbreviated year and only got to run four times," Hennig said. "He's had the 1-hole in both Grade 1 races this year."

Hennig said Gygistar will work Saturday and be pre-entered next week. Because of the small California group, the list of pre-entries may be shorter than usual.

The California sprint shortage is partly due to isolation.

"Obviously there's a bigger pool to draw from in the East and Midwest," Hennig said. "It's not just one state - we've got quite a few states supplying the fields. It's not just New York vs. California. I don't say that as a knock on California, but how many good sprinters are you supposed to have?"

More than four, one would hope. But many of the graded-stakes winners this year in California are gone, sidelined, or not nominated to the Breeders' Cup. Kona Gold retired, Disturbingthepeace is injured, and Hombre Rapido had a setback. Joey Franco would require a $90,000 supplement to the Sprint. Publication, runner-up in a Grade 1 stakes and a Grade 3 this summer at Hollywood, has not breezed in a month. Time is running out.

That leaves Captain Squire, Bluesthestandard, Yankee Gentleman, and Zavata to represent California. Although Captain Squire has not won a graded stakes since spring 2002, he has run better than he did in the Ancient Title, and his 117 Beyer in a restricted stakes in February was as good as any California sprint this year. The Ancient Title was designed as a prep for Zavata, and trainer Patrick Biancone is confident the 3-year-old will improve when he makes his second start at Santa Anita.

As for Bluesthestandard, he will be supplemented for $90,000 despite a modest third in the Ancient Title. Said trainer Ted H. West: "He deserves a chance to run against the best. There's no standout horse this year. If there was a standout, maybe we dodge. But any one of eight horses could win."

He may be right. Question is, which eight? Because it is increasingly likely that the 2003 Sprint will be won by a horse whose last start was somewhere other than in the state of California.

- additional reporting by Mike Farrell