02/28/2002 12:00AM

Came Home may be uncatchable at a mile


ARCADIA, Calif. - The divergent paths of several of this year's top California-based 3-year-olds will intersect in Saturday's $200,000 San Rafael Stakes at Santa Anita, in which the brilliant Came Home will be heavily favored.

The flat mile of the San Rafael traditionally plays to a horse who has sharp speed that can be carried a middle distance. Came Home is that kind of horse. But the San Rafael also can serve as a timely prep for horses who are at a disadvantage against the likes of a Came Home at a flat mile, but who may be better suited for the longer races coming up on the road to the Kentucky Derby. Fonz's and Pelirrojo are those kinds of horses.

The predicament is not lost on trainer David LaCroix, who is using the San Rafael as the start of a 3-year-old campaign for Fonz's. Ideally, LaCroix wants Fonz's to continue to the 1 1/8-mile Santa Anita Derby on April 6, and then the 1 1/4-mile Kentucky Derby on May 4.

"Came Home is going to be tough to run down," LaCroix said Thursday morning from Hollywood Park, where he is based. "I just hope my horse is closing ground at the end of the race. This is a stepping-stone to the Santa Anita Derby. As long as my horse is running the last part, I'll be happy. And if Came Home can't get the distance, then maybe we can get up."

Nine are entered in the Grade 2 San Rafael, which goes as the fifth race on an 11-race card. Fonz's drew well, landing post 4. With the fleet Werblin starting from the rail, and Came Home breaking from post 6, Fonz's should get an ideal, stalking trip.

Fonz's has not raced since finishing second to Siphonic in the 1 1/16-mile Hollywood Futurity on Dec. 15. That marked the end of a four-race 2-year-old campaign in which he won twice and finished second twice, with each race at his home track, Hollywood Park.

"The futurity was his first race around two turns. He was wide, and I really think he proved he could handle two turns," LaCroix said. "I was thinking of running him back in the Santa Catalina, but I thought he might bounce, so I just thought I'd freshen him and point for these three main races - this race, the Santa Anita Derby, and the Kentucky Derby. That's the dream, anyway. I hope to live it.

"The only question I have," LaCroix added, "is that he's run all his races at Hollywood Park, so I'm wondering how he'll handle Santa Anita."

The track is not of concern for Came Home, who is coming off a four-length victory in Santa Anita's seven-furlong San Vicente Stakes on Feb. 2. His trainer, Paco Gonzalez, believes Came Home has matured enough to where he can relax for jockey Chris McCarron and handle a flat mile. But Gonzalez has repeatedly emphasized that the Kentucky Derby is not a focal point of Came Home's spring campaign. He just wants the colt to get a mile on Saturday.

"He used to just want to go, but now he can relax," Gonzalez said. "When he worked seven furlongs the other day, he galloped out a mile real strong."

The distance is not a problem for Pelirrojo, a gelding whose striking, near-white color is sure to make him a fan favorite during his career. He beat a strong allowance field last time going a mile.

The speedy Werblin is a question mark at the distance. His trainer, Eduardo Inda, is hoping Werblin can rate a bit. "He likes to see horses in front of him," Inda said. The rail draw, however, might limit Werblin's options.