03/28/2003 12:00AM

Cal. breeding: Road to Slew, 8, still has it


ARCADIA, Calif. - When Road to Slew won the Crystal Water Handicap for California-breds for a record third time last Sunday, the satisfaction was visible on the faces of owner Nick Cafarchia and trainer Craig Dollase.

Six months ago, Road to Slew was on a local farm, recovering from a pulled ligament that threatened to end his accomplished career. Now, after two starts this year, Road to Slew is showing the same competitive spirit as an 8-year-old that he showed during a six-month span in 2000-01 when he won three consecutive stakes.

"I really wanted him to win the race a third time because no one else has done that," said Cafarchia, who owns an Italian bakery in Los Angeles. "It means something. For him to be 8, I can't believe what he's doing."

Bred by Cafarchia, Road to Slew won consecutive runnings of the Crystal Water Handicap in 2000 and 2001. By Slewpy, Road to Slew was trained by Oscar Garcia in 2000 and moved to Dollase's stable in the summer of that year. Over the next year, he enjoyed his greatest success, winning three consecutive stakes - the 2000 California Cup Mile, the Grade 2 Frank Kilroe Mile, and Crystal Water Handicap of 2001.

Following that win, he was out for 12 months. He returned to finish fourth in an optional claimer in April 2002, his only start last year. The ligament injury was diagnosed last spring.

Road to Slew returned to Dollase's stable at Hollywood Park last fall and was brought along slowly.

For his 2003 debut, Road to Slew started in a one-mile race for $62,500 claimers at Santa Anita on March 13. His appearance in that race gave the impression that Cafarchia and Dollase had given up hope that Road to Slew could return to the stakes level.

Instead, it was a crafty example of how a claiming race can be used as a prep race.

"We look like geniuses now," Dollase said. "It was in the back of our mind that someone could claim him, but he's 8 and has had his setbacks. We thought that was a comfortable spot. We felt he came out of it well enough to run him back in 10 days."

Bettors showed their support as well in the Crystal Water. Road to Slew was the 2-1 favorite in a field of eight, which included the multiple stakes winner Spinelessjellyfish and Hugh Hefner, the defending champion of the Crystal Water.

Ridden by David Flores, Road to Slew was sixth early, stalking the leaders. He was stuck behind a wall of horses in early stretch, but rallied through traffic to win by a half-length over 40-1 Mr. Joe C.

"At the top of the stretch, we thought he'd get stuck but when he got through he showed his class," Cafarchia said. "I know he's not the same horse as two years ago, but he's still himself. We knew he would run big. He did."

With the first-place purse of $66,780, Road to Slew has earned $875,360.

"With the injury he had and that he came back to win is very gratifying," Dollase said.

Cafarchia and Dollase are hoping Road to Slew can continue to be competitive in top stakes this year, and possibly start in the Breeders' Cup Mile here in the fall.

Going into this weekend, Road to Slew was one of two horses to win the same stakes at Santa Anita on three occasions. Del Mar Dennis won the three consecutive runnings of the San Bernardino Handicap from 1994-96. On Saturday, Kona Gold was to attempt to win the Potrero Grande Breeders' Cup Handicap for the third time, having scored wins in 2000 and 2001.

Road to Slew is being pointed for the $175,000 Khaled Stakes for California-breds at Hollywood Park on April 26, which is run over 1 1/8 miles on turf.

"With the California-bred angle, you can't go wrong," Dollase said. "We'll pick our spots. I think he deserves a shot at the Breeders' Cup Mile. His record is impeccable here."