01/31/2002 1:00AM

Came Home simply the best


ARCADIA, Calif. - At seven furlongs, the $150,000 San Vicente Stakes is already beyond the established credentials of six-furlong winners Popular and Werblin. At Grade 2 status, the race also presents a severe class hurdle for the two talented sprinters.

Then there is Came Home, who fits the conditions to a T. Already a Grade 1 winner at seven furlongs, and the overwhelming favorite to win his first start of the season, Came Home heads a field of seven in the San Vicente for 3-year-olds, the sixth race on a 10-race card highlighted by the Grade 2 Strub Stakes.

Came Home returned to California after his first career defeat, a seventh-place finish in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. "We were supposed to run in the Hollywood Park Futurity, but the owners didn't want to run anymore last year," trainer Paco Gonzalez explained.

Gonzalez was instructed to freshen up Came Home and prepare him for the San Vicente. So far, all has gone to plan. Came Home, winner of the Grade 3 Hollywood Juvenile and Grade 1 Hopeful at Saratoga, has trained super for his comeback. Owned by a partnership that includes Trudy McCaffery, John Toffan, Will Farish, and John Goodman, Came Home has posted a series of bullet works for his first start in three months.

Because Came Home is 3, it is only fair to look past the San Vicente. "I go race by race," Gonzalez said, "but if this goes fine, he'll go in the one-mile San Rafael." That March 2 one-mile race would be the first two-turn attempt by Came Home, whose pedigree, physical attributes, and running style make him a longshot for Kentucky Derby consideration.

"He's not a big horse," Gonzalez said of Came Home, a son of Gone West out of the top sprinter Nice Assay. A front-runner, Came Home earned Beyer Speed Figures of 105 and 108 last year, outstanding performances by a 2-year-old. Despite his inactivity and the sharp condition of two main rivals, Came Home should win the San Vicente for the simple reason he is the best horse.

But Werblin and Popular probably haven't peaked. Werblin returned from a six-month layoff with a huge six-furlong allowance win Dec. 26, good for a Beyer of 107. The race was validated when its fourth-place runner, Pelirrojo, returned Wednesday to win a two-turn allowance.

Werblin, trained by Eduardo Inda, is racing in a graded stakes for the first time, but the 2-for-2 colt gives every indication he is up to the challenge. Popular rebounded from a dull seventh-place finish to win the six-furlong San Miguel. Trained by Bob Baffert, he is is 2 for 5 and a good fit off his 105 Beyer last time out.

Mayberry on the verge

A stakes win may no longer be a dream for trainer Summer Mayberry after Saturday. The daughter of the late trainer Brian Mayberry, who won 15 stakes at Santa Anita, Summer Mayberry will try for her first stakes win when Continental Lu starts in the $125,000 Pro or Con Handicap.

Continental Lu has a longshot's chance in the Pro or Con, run over a mile on turf for California-breds. In the last six months, the 4-year-old Continental Lu has won three of six starts, including two races on turf.

Most recently, she ran third in an allowance race/optional claimer over 1 1/8 miles on turf on Jan. 2, a result that was flattered when runner-up Leading Light finished second in the Grade 1 Santa Monica Handicap last weekend.

"I think the mile and an eighth was a little beyond what she wants to do," Mayberry said.

A stalker, Continental Lu should get a good trip in the Pro or Con, which has drawn eight entrants. Super Tuesday, winner of the Work the Crowd Handicap at Golden Gate Fields last month, is a deserving favorite. The last time she started here she was second in the California Cup Distaff Starter Handicap Nov. 3.

Trainer Jack Van Berg starts the rapidly improving Apollo's Music, who has won two of her last three starts. Apollo's Music and Yes We Do, the runner-up in the Work the Crowd, are expected to set the pace.

Continental Lu will be ridden by Victor Espinoza.

"Hopefully, we'll win," Mayberry said. "I don't know how I'd handle it if I won. I'd think I'd be in shock. I was around plenty of stakes wins with my dad but it's different when it's my name."