11/06/2003 12:00AM

Don'tsellmeshort tries to stretch out

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ARCADIA, Calif. - Three stakes wins established Don'tsellmeshort as one of the leading 2-year-old Cal-bred sprinters. But the question remains - can Don'tsellmeshort run long?

A field of 10 entered the $125,000 California Cup Juvenile on Saturday, and there is no point in debating trainer Dan Hendricks on the issue of quality. Regarding Don'tsellmeshort, he said, "I think I've got the best 2-year-old in California."

He is, at least, one of the best statebreds - the son of Benchmark has won three races and $204,395 from six starts. But he will try something different in the Cal Cup - 1 1/16 miles.

"He doesn't look like a typical sprinter. He's tall and he's long," Hendricks said.

He's also lucky. Don'tsellmeshort won the $122,000 Barretts Juvenile on Sept. 21 largely because three main rivals were eliminated on the first turn of the five-eighths-mile oval. Don'tsellmeshort, owned by Cecil Peacock, won by a diminishing 1 1/4 lengths.

On Saturday, he must improve against a field that includes sharp maiden-claiming winner Black Horse Money, speedster P Town John, maiden He's the Rage, and Bay Area shipper Charbonnier. The longshots include Gem of a Day, Pleasure Honor, Tricky Flash Flood, Devoted Lover, and Pioneerman.

If not for his impressive recent workouts and the dogged conviction of Hendricks that his colt will stay two turns, Don'tsellmeshort might qualify as a bet-against in the Cal Cup Juvenile. But the trainer said he is convinced the gray colt is better now than he was in the summer.

"He's just coming out of his skin," Hendricks said. "He's a classy horse that's maturing."

In recent workouts, Don'tsellme-short has shown the ability to rate behind workmates and still provide a finishing kick. If the morning exercise translates to afternoon performance, Don'tsellmeshort is the right horse to win the Juvenile. But his hand may be forced from the inside post. Don'tsellmeshort might have to go right on with it and set the pace.

Perhaps his main pace foe is P Town John, a son of Smokester trained by Jeff Bonde. A sprinter, he is in the same boat as the rest of the field.

"Whether or not he can route, that's the question. It won't be because of a lack of fitness," Bonde said. "He's worked seven-eighths, he came back and worked a mile, and we blew him out five-eighths, so he's plenty fit."

Black Horse Money is one of two Doug O'Neill trainees in the race. The trainer won a 10-way shake for Black Horse Money on Oct. 23, when he won a $50,000 maiden-claimer by two lengths. O'Neill said the son of General Meeting was claimed with the express purpose of racing in the Cal Cup. It's in his bloodlines: Black Horse Money is a full brother to 1998 Cal Cup Juvenile winner Sunday Stroll.

O'Neill also starts Pleasure Honor, who won a slow Cal-bred allowance route Oct. 16.

He's the Rage stretches out after a troubled, fast-finishing third in an Oct. 11 sprint. It is an enterprising move, going from sprint to route. "It comes up too quick," trainer Jim Cassidy said, "but what am I going to do? Pass the Cal Cup? Run him in a maiden race?"

He's the Rage is a son of Soft Gold, and Cassidy said he recently sold his full brother Tavern Time for a mere $5,000.

"You have so many disappointments with these homebreds," Cassidy said. "That's what makes this so sweet, because [He's the Rage] looks like he might be all right."

Victor Espinoza rides He's the Rage for the first time.