12/29/2001 12:00AM

Earl of Danby's gutsy win a sign of much promise

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ARCADIA, Calif. - At the least, the undefeated Earl of Danby enjoys a fight. In Friday's $150,000 open division of the California Breeders' Champion Stakes, Earl of Danby was one of six 2-year-olds trying for the lead after two furlongs and the only one in the group still around at the finish, winning the race by a length.

Ridden by Chris McCarron, Earl of Danby was five wide on the backstretch, moved closer to the rail to be three wide on the turn, and fought off Joey Franco to emerge with the lead at the eighth pole. Gobi Dan closed from last in the field of 10 to threaten in the final sixteenth but his rally fell short. Joey Franco held third, 2 1/2 lengths behind Earl of Danby.

Earl of Danby ($5.40) ran seven furlongs in 1:23.32. The win came 20 days after he won a six-furlong maiden race at Hollywood Park in his debut. "He broke good and it didn't surprise me that he showed more speed," trainer Paco Gonzalez said. "I saw Chris had a lot of horse and I was worried he would be five wide on the turn, but by the time he got to the turn he was three wide."

Owned by Trudy McCaffery and John Toffan, Earl of Danby may appear next in a longer race, Gonzalez said. By Smokester, Earl of Danby has earned $111,600.

"I think he'll go farther because he's such a long horse," Gonzalez said. "He has a really long stride."

Golden Apples points to Santa Ana

Golden Apples, who won two important stakes and placed in two others in the final five months of 2001, has returned to trainer Ben Cecil's stable following a vacation in December. The 3-year-old Golden Apples has not started since finishing third in the Grade 1 Matriarch Stakes at Hollywood Park. Previously, she won the Del Mar Oaks and Las Palmas Handicap and was second in the Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup at Keeneland in October.

Golden Apples will be pointed for the $150,000 Santa Ana Handicap over 1 1/8 miles on turf on March 23, Cecil said.

"She wasn't gone long so I don't think she's gone back too far in her training," Cecil said.

Ladies Din back in training

Ladies Din, a veteran turf miler trained by Julio Canani, is back in training for a late winter comeback.

A 7-year-old in 2002, Ladies Din has not started since finishing 11th in the Group 2 Dubai Duty Free Stakes last March in the Middle East.

"He's galloping and he'll breeze on the 15th of January," Canani said. "It will take another month to be ready."

Canani said Ladies Din needed the rest because of "wear and tear." Ladies Din has not started in California since finishing second in the Citation Handicap at Hollywood Park in November 2000.