03/14/2003 1:00AM

Cal. breeding: Small-time breeder hopes Siberland hits it big Derby Day


ARCADIA, Calif. - John Bassett stays pretty busy at his central California farm in Tulare, near Fresno. Aside from a dairy operation, the 1,000-acre farm grows alfalfa, corn, cotton, pistachios, and wheat.

Bassett and his family have 20 acres set aside for a few broodmares and yearlings, a sporting interest that his late father, George, enjoyed for 60 years.

In recent months, the farm activity has prevented John Bassett from visiting the racetrack to watch Siberland, the multiple stakes winner his father bred. Bassett, however, has a date circled on his calendar that would be an ideal day to watch Siberland.

"I've got a room booked for the Kentucky Derby," he said Friday.

This weekend, the California-bred Siberland can move significantly closer to that milestone when he starts in Sunday's $250,000 San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita. The San Felipe is an important test for

3-year-olds, and could lead to a start in the $750,000 Santa Anita Derby.

To Bassett, 49, the success of Siberland is a tribute to his father, who died in April 2001 at 89. Siberland was bred on the family's farm, and so was his dam, Valley Deb, who was stakes placed in the early 1990's.

"We have three broodmares, and two yearlings," Bassett said. "We're a small deal."

Siberland has won 4 of 7 starts and $172,180. After winning a maiden race in his third start last summer, Siberland won three consecutive stakes - the I'm Smokin Stakes over six furlongs for California-breds at Del Mar last September and two stakes during the Turf Paradise meeting this winter.

At Turf Paradise, Siberland won the six-furlong Arizona Juvenile Stakes by 4 1/2 lengths on Dec. 21, and returned 20 days later to win the one-mile Rattlesnake Stakes by 10 1/2 lengths.

The winning streak was interrupted with a loss in the Turf Paradise Derby on Feb. 1, his first start at 1 1/16 miles. Leading in midstretch, Siberland could not hold off Robledo, who won by three-quarters of a length.

The Turf Paradise Derby has led to a start in the San Felipe Stakes.

Dennis Weir of Phoenix campaigns Siberland, having paid $6,000 for him as a yearling at the 2001 Barretts January mixed sale. At the time, Bassett said, he and his father were organizing their estate.

"My dad was in failing health and we had so much going on," he said. "Our business takes a lot to operate. He wanted to clean things up and make everything work for the future. I was with him on the deal. I wouldn't have necessarily sold everything, but that was the decision we made."

After his father's death, Bassett did not leave racing. He kept two broodmares - Valley Deb and Catrina - and added another last fall, Our Country Girl, who was bought in foal to Dixie Dot Com. Although the family has nothing in training at the racetrack, it may in the future.

"My dad and I were partners in the horses," he said. "I took care of the ranch and my dad took care of the arrangements and the business end of the deal. I've taken over the business. I'm on a learning curve on that end, but enjoying it."

Siberland is the result of the mating of Siberian Summer and Valley Deb. By Debonair Roger, Valley Deb is 16. During her racing career, she won 3 of 14 starts and $59,150 and finished second in the Chapati Stakes at the Alameda County Fair in Pleasanton.

This month, the racing pastures at the Bassett farm are empty of broodmares, who are at Creston Farms in Creston waiting to be bred to Siberian Summer.

Valley Deb has not had a foal the last two years, but has been pronounced fit for breeding by veterinarians, Bassett said. He is hopeful that she can produce another foal as talented as Siberland.

"We've watched him very closely," he said of Siberland. "It's been fantastic, wonderful. I haven't got to see him race yet in person, so we've kept track through the computer. I think it's just phenomenal. He's got a great future."