10/23/2003 11:00PM

Buckland Manor gives a shot in the arm

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ARCADIA, Calif. - It has been a disappointing season, but the recent success of Buckland Manor has revived 2003 for prominent owners Trudy McCaffery and John Toffan and trainer Paco Gonzalez.

Buckland Manor won his second consecutive allowance race on turf Thursday, setting up a possible start in the $600,000 Hollywood Derby at Hollywood Park on Nov. 30.

The victories are a turnaround in form for Buckland Manor, who was tried on the Triple Crown trail last fall until breathing problems forced him to the sidelines. Buckland Manor is unbeaten since returning to racing earlier this month.

"Six months off has made all the difference in the world," McCaffery said. "He's twice the size, he's filled out, and he's happy."

In Thursday's one-mile race, Buckland Manor stalked the pace to the final turn and rallied three wide under Corey Nakatani before pulling clear to beat Expresso Bay by three lengths.

"I didn't know he'd be this strong," Gonzalez said. "He got a good trip. Corey gave him a good ride."

Last winter, Buckland Manor won a maiden race by five lengths in his third career start, scoring a victory that made him a candidate for the Triple Crown preps. In his first race against winners, Buckland Manor finished third in an allowance race behind the highly regarded Atswhatimtalknbout.

Buckland Manor was a longshot in the Grade 2 San Felipe Stakes on March 16, encountered trouble on the first turn, and finished last of 10. After that race, he underwent surgery to aid his breathing.

"He couldn't breathe," Gonzalez said. "We did the surgery and he came back good."

Last year, the Gonzalez stable was led by Came Home, who won six races, including the Pacific Classic, Santa Anita Derby, and Swaps Stakes.

This year, the entire Gonzalez stable has won six races. McCaffery and Toffan do not have as many horses at the racetrack as they did in past years and do not have a major horse in the barn. Came Home was retired to stud in Kentucky.

A decision on the Hollywood Derby will be made in late November. Because Buckland Manor was not nominated, he must be supplemented for $15,000 on Nov. 19.

Another race fails to fill

The $75,000 Lure Stakes, which failed to fill on Sunday, will not be offered again at this meeting, director of racing Mike Harlow said. The race was an overnight handicap and the purse will revert to the overall purse program.

This is the latest evidence that track management has had trouble filling races. On many days, race programs have not been completed until early afternoon. In past seasons, the entries were often finished by noon.

"We've had trouble about every day," Harlow said.

On Sunday, 73 horses were entered for nine races. Two races drew oversubscribed fields, but two others have five-horse fields and one has only six entrants.

Harlow is optimistic that entries will be stronger in the final two weeks of the Oak Tree meeting, which ends on Nov. 9. One of the programs is the California Cup on Nov. 8, a day of 10 stakes for state-breds that annually draws strong fields.

Harlow is hopeful that the races in the condition book from Wednesday through Nov. 9 will prove popular.

"I think the way the book looks it should be a little more helpful," he said. "I think the next two weeks will be better. In the last two weeks, people want to get their horses in."

Entries have been slow for several reasons. Field sizes were strong during the Del Mar and Fairplex Park meetings during the summer, leaving some horses sidelined this fall. There was an overlap day on Sept. 28 when Fairplex Park and Oak Tree ran simultaneously. In addition, Oak Tree ran six days during the second week of the meeting.

Gill, Shuman make first local claim

Owner Michael Gill and trainer Mark Shuman, who have been the subject of controversy because of their aggressive claiming tactics at Eastern tracks in the last year, went on a buying spree at Santa Anita on Friday.

Making their first foray into California racing, Gill and Shuman claimed horses from the first two races. In the first race for $10,000 claimers over six furlongs, Shuman claimed Golden Fable, who finished last of seven, 17 lengths behind Waki American.

In the second race, they claimed In Excess Summer, the runner-up in a maiden race for $25,000 claimers.

Through Wednesday, Shuman ranked fifth in the nation with 185 wins, and 12th in earnings with $4,732,011.

Gill and Shuman had one entrant in the Saturday's Breeders' Cup - Forest Music in the Juvenile Fillies.

Daunting snaps losing streak

Daunting, the winner of the Claiming Crown Jewel at Canterbury Park in July, ended a two-race losing streak with a victory in an optional claimer over 1 1/16 miles on Wednesday.

Trainer Mark Glatt said the former claimer will be pointed for the $75,000 Forty Niner Handicap over 1 1/16 miles at Golden Gate Fields on Nov. 28.

Daunting races for the William Bannasch Living Trust.