04/28/2003 12:00AM

Chief Planner new Golden Eagle star


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - A layoff of nearly three years proved too much for General Challenge, who was defeated by more than 20 lengths in his comeback Saturday at Hollywood Park. But the torch that General Challenge once carried high for owner Golden Eagle Farm - the California breeding farm founded by the late John Mabee - was passed Sunday to a worthy successor.

Chief Planner's runaway victory in the $250,000 Snow Chief Stakes stamped the 3-year-old colt as a rising star for Golden Eagle and trainer Bob Baffert. It also supplied a fitting highlight to the $1.3 million California Gold Rush Day, a 10-race card for California-breds that featured an array of highs and lows.

Jockey Mike Smith escaped serious injury when he went down in single-horse spills in races 4 and 6. His Snow Chief mount, Bold N Broke, broke two legs, fell hard, and was euthanized. Two races later, Smith's mount, Prized Friend, jumped over the inside rail while setting the pace in the $150,000 Khaled Stakes. The horse was fine.

Smith took off the remainder of his mounts, was examined at nearby Centinela Medical Center, and ended up with little more than soreness and a scraped shin.

Gary Stevens sustained a foot injury when his ankle was smashed against the starting gate before race 5, which Stevens won aboard Tucked Away. Stevens said he may have a broken the tip of a bone in his foot, but he rode the remainder of the card and said it would take more than a painful foot to prevent him from riding Buddy Gil in the Kentucky Derby. One race after the injury, Stevens came within a neck of winning the Khaled on 10-year-old Native Desert.

Chief Planner's seven-length Snow Chief triumph (race 4) was the most decisive on the program. Like General Challenge, he was sired by General Meeting and bred by John Mabee and his wife, Betty.

In the winner's circle after the race, an emotional Betty Mabee recalled her husband's influence on California racing.

"John was such a big supporter of California-bred days, he really believed in the Cal-bred program," she said. "He piloted the ship as far as he could take it . . . I wish he were here."

John Mabee was 80 when he died last April 22, less than a month before Chief Planner made his debut at Hollywood, finishing second. He won his second start, placed in a series of graded sprints, but "he looked like he was dying for more ground," said Tim Yakteen, a Baffert assistant.

Chief Planner was sidelined with sore shins after finishing third in the Del Mar Futurity, and returned March 30 at Santa Anita and finished second in an allowance sprint. He stretched out to two turns in the 1 1/8-mile Snow Chief for 3-year-olds, and he benefited from a perfect ride from David Flores.

Chief Planner ran the 1 1/8 miles in a creditable 1:49.12.

Baffert, who was in Kentucky, phoned Betty Mabee after the race and jokingly told her he would enter Chief Planner in the Kentucky Derby. She responded likewise: "Bob, what on Earth are you smoking?"

Baffert said Sunday that Chief Planner had not been nominated to the Triple Crown races, and instead would follow a conservative campaign.

"I didn't nominate him for the Triple Crown," Baffert said. "I knew the temptation would be there. After the Kentucky Derby, a lot of the 3-year-olds will be tired dudes. By August, he [Chief Planner] could be the best 3-year-old in training."

The win was the second in seven starts for Chief Planner ($5.60). Excessivepleasure, the 7-5 favorite, pressed the pace and finished second, 2 1/2 lengths in front of Tiz a Coup.

Excessivepleasure's trainer, Doug O'Neill, said, "We knew 1 1/8 miles was questionable for him, but he sure didn't embarrass us."

Chief Planner's victory might have set the stage for a Golden Eagle sweep of the day's biggest races, but General Challenge was not up to the task in the $150,000 Tiznow Stakes (race 8). The 7 1/2-furlong sprint was the first start for General Challenge since August 2000. After pressing the pace for nearly five furlongs, he quickly dropped back and was eased by jockey Corey Nakatani.

"He felt great, but he was a little keener than I thought he'd be," Nakatani said. "He was just a little sharp for the race."

Nakatani said Baffert had instructed him "to take care of him" if General Challenge got tired. General Challenge was done at the quarter pole and finished last, beaten 201/2 lengths.

Grey Memo injured

Joey Franco won the Tiznow. Runner-up to Bluesthestandard last out in the Grade 2 Portero Grande, Joey Franco raced in fourth position behind three dueling leaders, rallied three wide, and wore down Bonus Pay Day to win by a length in 1:28.04 for 7 1/2 furlongs.

Commander's Flag, part of the Golden Eagle entry that was favored at 9-5, rallied for third. Grey Memo finished seventh. He came out of the race with a quarter crack, and will get some time off. He was wheeling back only a month after having raced in Dubai.

Joey Franco ($7.20) was ridden by Kent Desormeaux and making his second start since owner-breeder Jerry Frankel switched trainers, from David Hofmans to Darrell Vienna.

The new trainer deferred credit for the 4-year-old's rapid improvement. "I was just lucky to get him in the right place in his form cycle, because there was nothing to fix," Vienna said.

Joey Franco, a 4-year-old by Avenue of Flags, won for the fifth time in 12 starts.

Besides the Snow Chief (race 4) and Tiznow (race 8), there were four other major stakes on the Gold Rush card.

B. Thoughtful a two-horse race

Cee's Elegance and Jetinto Houston dominated the $150,000 B. Thoughtful Stakes (race 1) for fillies and mares. Cee's Elegance beat Jetinto Houston by three-quarters of a length. It was 7 1/2 lengths back to third in the seven-furlong race, run in 1:21.70 over a track that produced fast times.

Cee's Elegance ($4.80) won for the fifth time in a 29-race career which is winding down. According to co-owner Michael Cooper, Cee's Elegance, a 6-year-old Cee's Tizzy mare, will campaign sparingly this year. She will aim for the California Cup Matron during the autumn Oak Tree meet Santa Anita, and a Sunshine Millions race early next year, then likely be retired next spring and bred in Kentucky. Victor Espinoza rode Cee's Elegance for trainer Doug O'Neill.

* In the $150,000 Fran's Valentine Stakes (race 3) for fillies and mares at 1 1/16 miles on turf, Shalini upset the 3-5 favorite, Blind Ambition. Corey Nakatani rode Shalini ($7.80), who won by a neck in 1:41.41. Shalini is trained by Craig Dollase. Blind Ambition, three wide throughout, made the lead passing the quarter pole and got worn down. She held second over Sunset Serenade.

* Prized Friend appeared on his way to victory in the $150,000 Khaled Stakes (race 6) at 1 1/16 miles on turf when he explicably jumped over the inner rail nearing the eighth pole. Native Desert inherited the lead at that point but was nailed late by Sea to See ($9.20). Lily's Lad finished third. Sea to Sea is trained by O'Neill. The final time was 1:47.60. Prized Friend ran loose in the infield for five minutes before being caught. His jockey, Mike Smith, took off the remainder of his mounts.

* Bartok's Blithe won the $200,000 Melair Stakes (race 9) for 3-year-old fillies, taking the 1 1/16-mile race by three-quarters of a length over pacesetter Princess V. The Melair was the first stakes win for trainer Jorge Gutierrez. Bartok's Blithe ($7.20) was ridden by Victor Espinoza. After Princess V., it was eight lengths back to Fatal Caper. The final time was 1:42.87. Though she finished second, Princess V. ran the best race. She set fractions of 45.36 seconds and 1:09:88 before tiring through the lane.

* Ontrack attendance of 14,600 was the lowest in the four-year Gold Rush history. The card's total handle of $17,230,858 was a Gold Rush record.