03/14/2005 1:00AM

Co-favorites headed in different directions


SAN MATEO, Calif. - Neither of the two Cal-breds in the field for last weekend's at Bay Meadows was nominated to the Triple Crown. Yet they were co-favorites in the Grade 3, $200,000 race for 3-year-olds.

They ended up bookending the field; favored Uncle Denny scored a game 2 1/4-length victory, and local favorite Stellar Magic ran last after encountering trouble nearing the quarter pole.

Now, their paths separate.

Uncle Denny will likely be nominated to the Triple Crown and will look at either the Santa Anita Derby or Wood Memorial as a possible final stepping-stone to Kentucky.

Stellar Magic will likely be freshened a bit as trainer Brian Pitnick looks for a spot where the gelding can regroup off Saturday's disappointing effort.

Uncle Denny's trainer, Rafael Becerra, said Monday that his horse had returned to Southern California on Sunday.

"Right now, he looks good," said Becerra, adding that he and owner Stan Fulton would wait a few more days before making any decision about Uncle Denny's next start.

Most impressively, Uncle Denny was part of a contested pace all the way and still opened up in the lane. Jockey Russell Baze was amazed, because he said Uncle Denny actually rebroke again at the finish line before galloping out.

Becerra said Uncle Denny's bullet six-furlong workout at Santa Anita tired him out more than the race did.

"I'll be honest, he was blowing harder when he went nine and three than the other day," he said. "The main thing is that they get back in one piece."

That was Pitnick's only consolation as he walked Stellar Magic on Sunday morning.

He said Stellar Magic cleaned his feed tub Saturday night, something he doesn't usually do after a hard race. Stellar Magic was full of bounce Sunday morning, but Pitnick wants to watch him for a few more days to fully assess his condition. He credited rider Dennis Carr for not persevering with Stellar Magic after an incident near the quarter pole cost him all chance for a placing.

"It was very disappointing, but it was the most exciting day of my career," Pitnick said. "I would like to be 2-1 in a $200,000 stakes any time.

"We've got to regroup and go back to square one. We'll probably give him a little time and try to find an easier spot to build his confidence. I'm not looking at other derbies or taking him out of town."

Carr thought he was sitting pretty until he attempted to gun Stellar Magic through a hole approaching the quarter pole.

"I was loving it down the backstretch," Carr said.

Stellar Magic relaxed nicely behind a pace battle. Vasilias, making his first start in six months, was on the lead from the inside with Uncle Denny outside him. Big Top Cat was sitting outside Uncle Denny, and Wind Water was roaring into contention four wide.

The race seemed to be setting up for someone coming off the pace. All Carr needed was some luck, but the luck he got was all bad.

"I was hoping to get through a hole at the quarter pole," he said. "The hole opens up inside, and I'm three-quarters of the way through."

At that point, Carr said that Tammi Piermarini, aboard the maiden Customer, "hit her horse right-handed, and he ducked back in. He wiped us out. He annihilated us. We were turned almost sideways.

"He got hit so hard I thought I was going to hit the ground," Carr said. "I think Joe Steiner thought so, too."

Steiner, riding Stormin Away, was directly behind Stellar Magic at the time.

Carr checked, steadied, and lost all momentum, pretty much easing Stellar Magic down the lane.

"He's been awfully good to me, so this was my chance to be good to him," said Carr. "I feel bad because we never even got a shot to make a run."

Nothing definite for Lost in the Fog

Trainer Greg Gilchrist and owner Harry Aleo are taking their time making a decision about undefeated Lost in the Fog's next start, but are reviewing a variety of options for a follow-up to his most recent win in the Grade 2 Swale.

"He'll run the first part of April," Gilchrist said. "He's still pretty tired from his last race, and I wouldn't want to be running this weekend."

* Bay Meadows comes back with another graded stakes Saturday, the $125,000 Stanford Breeders' Cup Handicap at 1 1/16 miles on the turf. Twenty-three runners were nominated for the Grade 3 race, including Night Patrol, a late supplement; four from trainer Jerry Hollendorfer; three from the Bobby Frankel barn; and world traveler Sarafan.

* Mahalo, who has won three straight, heads a field of five fillies and mares in Wednesday's feature, a six-furlong, $50,000 optional claiming sprint. Luisathebeachhouse and Burning Brite should provide the early speed, setting things up for Mahalo and Beezer. Apollonesian rounds out the field.