12/27/2003 1:00AM

Buckland Manor ends in top form

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ARCADIA, Calif. - Buckland Manor has single-handedly revived the 2003 racing season for owner John Toffan and Trudy McCaffery and trainer Paco Gonzalez.

Buckland Manor's win in the $78,000 Sir Beaufort Stakes over a mile on dirt Friday at Santa Anita was his third straight.

The win was only Gonzalez's eighth of the year from 65 starters. His private barn for McCaffery and Toffan has 14 horses, with the homebred Buckland Manor the leading runner. In recent years, the stable has included the millionaires Bienamado and Free House.

Buckland Manor needs $845,680 to reach that milestone. He will make his next start in the $300,000 Strub Stakes for 4-year-olds on Feb. 7.

"He deserves a chance the way he's running now," Gonzalez said. "The good thing is he's relaxed."

Buckland Manor is in the best form of his career. He battled through an illness in the summer of 2002 and had breathing problems last winter. After undergoing surgery and being given a break of 6 1/2 months, Buckland Manor is unbeaten, including victories in two one-mile allowance races on turf at Santa Anita in October.

Buckland Manor was expected to start at Hollywood Park but did not draw into an oversubscribed Hollywood Derby on Nov. 30. He was scratched from the Native Diver Handicap on Dec. 7 after suffering a minor bout of colic on the morning of the race.

In the Sir Beaufort, Buckland Manor disputed the early lead with Rock n Rosh, put him away, and then fought off a late challenge from Saint Buddy to win by two lengths. He finished a mile in 1:36.08.

"He's turned into a pretty nice horse," Toffan said. "We were a little concerned he'd be too fresh. He looked pretty relaxed all the way."

The win was a much-needed dose of good news for the owners. Earlier this month, Buckland Manor's dam, Bags of Pace, was euthanized after suffering a leg injury in Kentucky.

Hill Rise portends success

The $75,000 Hill Rise Stakes, Monday's first race, has been more than just a minor overnight stakes in recent years.

Last year, Peace Rules won the Hill Rise, the second of four consecutive stakes wins that included the Louisiana Derby and Blue Grass Stakes. He later finished third in the Kentucky Derby, won the Haskell Invitational, and was second in the Travers Stakes.

In 2000, The Deputy won the Hill Rise Stakes and later won the Santa Anita Derby.

Monday's Hill Rise has drawn eight entrants, but it may be transferred from the turf to dirt if substantial rains falls.

That could lead to scratches in a field that includes two European shippers, Gwaihir and Vikings Bay; Atten Hut, a stakes winner on turf at Arlington Park; and Greek Sun, an impressive winner of a maiden race on turf in his career debut Nov. 15.

None of the entrants has won a stakes on dirt. Saltire, sixth in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes, and Pioneerman, ninth in the California Cup Juvenile, are looking to rebound.

Don'tsellmeshort points to Dash

The comfort of the state-bred division will keep Don'tsellmeshort from the top colts and geldings of his division at least until late winter.

After scoring his third stakes win in Friday's $125,000 California Breeders' Champion Stakes, trainer Dan Hendricks said Don'tsell-meshort will be pointed for the $250,000 Sunshine Millions Dash over six furlongs for California-breds and Florida-breds at Santa Anita on Jan. 24.

The Dash will mark the sixth consecutive restricted stakes for Don'tsellmeshort, who won the Graduation Stakes for state-breds at Del Mar in July and the Barretts Juvenile for sales graduates at Fairplex Park in September. He was second in the I'm Smokin Stakes at Del Mar and third as the favorite in the California Cup Juvenile.

"We set this plan after he broke his maiden," Hendricks said. "He had to be good enough, which he was, and we had to be lucky. In the California Cup, he broke from the one hole, and with so much speed in there, it didn't work out."

Ridden by Alex Solis, Don'tsellmeshort ($28.80) rallied wide from third to take a two-length lead in early stretch. He won by 1 1/2 lengths over 24-1 Badgett's Mandate, and finished seven furlongs in 1:25.09.

"It looked perfect. All we had to do was sit off the speed," Hendricks said.

Owned by Peacock, Don'tsellme-short has won 4 of 8 starts and $294,395. He was bought for $75,000 at the Barretts May Sale of 2-year-old's in-training.

No stakes yet for Strong Cat

Strong Cat scored an impressive win in his career debut in Friday's second race for maidens, but trainer Bruce Headley is reluctant to throw Strong Cat into a stakes in coming weeks.

Headley said he would like to try Strong Cat, 2, in an upcoming allowance race.

Ridden by Solis, Strong Cat rallied from sixth in the final quarter-mile to score a half-length win over Snapped Up. Strong Cat finished six furlongs in 1:10.32.

"It was no surprise," Headley said. "Look at the way he looks. He didn't break that bad. What a finish he had."

By Forest Wildcat, Strong Cat is owned by Stan Fulton, who purchased Strong Cat for $190,000 at the 2002 Fasig-Tipton July yearling sale.

Fulton also owns Saint Buddy.

Halfbridled preps for Las Virgenes

Halfbridled, the nation's top 2-year-old filly, breezed a half-mile in 51 seconds Saturday. She is being pointed for the $250,000 Las Virgenes Stakes on Feb. 15, a Grade 1 for 3-year-old fillies over a mile.

Got Koko, a five-time stakes winner who was third in the Breeders' Cup Distaff, worked six furlongs in 1:12.60, the fastest of 34 recorded works at the distance. Trained by Headley, she is being pointed for the $250,000 Santa Monica Handicap over seven furlongs on Jan. 25.

Pete Rose has a winner

He has won the World Series and has more hits than any player in baseball history. He's been in pressure-filled situations, certainly more dire than watching a $25,000 maiden-claimer. But Pete Rose was flush with excitement after Fort Point, of whom Rose is a part-owner, won the final race on Santa Anita's opening-day card Friday.

"I can't imagine being in that position with a horse in the Kentucky Derby, Preakness, Belmont, or Breeders' Cup," Rose said in the winner's circle. "I'd have a heart attack."

Rose has been a huge racing fan for years. When he played for and later managed the Cincinnati Reds, he was a regular at River Downs. But not until a serendipitous circumstance brought him Fort Point did he ever dream of standing in the winner's circle at Santa Anita.

Rose was looking for a riding horse for his daughter, Chea. Through a long-time friendship with Will Farish and Lane's End Farm, Rose this summer acquired Fort Point. The son of Carson City, a $900,000 yearling purchase, Fort Point had lost all 10 of his starts, most recently a $40,000 maiden-claimer at Delaware. He had been gelded and was thought to have a serious breathing problem. But on looks, he was right for what Rose desired.

But when a veterinarian hired by Rose checked out Fort Point's respiratory system, it was found that Fort Point was suffering more from severe bleeding than an errant flap. With the blessing of Farish, and in concert with Farish and the Fog City Stable of Bill Bianco and David Shimmon, Fort Point was put back into training, with Rose keeping a piece so small that his name was not listed in the program. He was part of the "et al" that followed Farish and Fog City.

Fort Point finished second in a $25,000 maiden-claimer at Hollywood Park on Dec. 7, then won by 3 1/2 lengths Friday. He was, however, claimed out of the race by trainer Rafael Becerra. There went Chea's riding horse.

- additional reporting by Jay Privman