02/07/2005 1:00AM

Emerging asset

Lundy's Liability, winning the San Antonio 'Cap, could tackle the Dubai World Cup next.

ARCADIA, Calif. - In the best of all possible worlds, untroubled by temptation or pride, the results of the over the weekend would flow smoothly into the mix for the $1 million Santa Anita Handicap next month.

This is the natural order of things, the way they are meant to be. Testing, 1 1/8-mile preliminaries on the first weekend in February, followed by 1 1/4 miles for all the money on the first glorious Saturday in March and a place in the history books alongside Seabiscuit, Round Table, John Henry, and Affirmed.

Since 1996, however, the Santa Anita Handicap has been hounded by the spectre of the Dubai World Cup, with its late-March date and multi-million-dollar purse that seems to have no limit. Then, for the past three years, the Sunshine Millions Classic and its own cool million has applied the pressure from late January. The result has been dilution, distraction, and a gutting of the traditional events racing needs to retain customer loyalty.

This winter it could be different. This time around, the Strub and the San Antonio may supply both quality and quantity to a Santa Anita Handicap that could be one for the books. Take the one-two-three finishers from both weekend races, stir in the right amount of promotion and breathless hype, and March 5 just might be a day to remember.

Best of all, there are proven runners, some of them potential stars, but there is no standout. The winners - Lundy's Liability and Rock Hard Ten - still have questions to answer. The bridesmaids - Imperialism and Truly a Judge - must always be respected. Even the third-place finishers - Congrats and Love of Money (especially Love of Money) - ran races that should earn them respect when the class convenes once again.

If any of them could be tempted away from Santa Anita for the $6 million purse in Dubai, Lundy's Liability would seem to be the candidate. The worldly South American began life in Brazil, raced as a young horse in South Africa, then ran three times in Dubai last winter, ending his stay with a victory in the $2 million UAE Derby. He was, by Northern Hemisphere standards, a 4-year-old at the time.

Bobby Frankel welcomed Lundy's Liability to the fold last spring, but he did not make it back to the races until the fall, when he won the Goodwood Handicap at Santa Anita right off the bench. A bad start in the subsequent Clark Handicap at Churchill Downs ruined his day, but that became ancient memory in midstretch Sunday, when he pulled away from Truly a Judge to win the San Antonio by 1 1/2 lengths.

Discerning viewers may have noticed Sally Lundy leading Lundy's Liability on the offside around the Santa Anita paddock before the San Antonio. Formerly married to trainer Richard Lundy, Sally Lundy is Frankel's Santa Anita-based assistant, not to mention an accomplished trainer in her own right. Lundy's Liability is no relation.

"I like the Lundy part," Lundy said. "The other part, well, I guess his people knew J.T. Lundy or something."

Good guess. Lundy's Liability sports the colors of Goncalo Borges Torrealba's Stud TNT, the devil's red and blue that were originally the legendary colors of Calumet Farm. Torrealba bought the rights to the colors at auction in the wake of J.T. Lundy's mismanagement of the Calumet Farm assets, a scandal that led to Lundy's imprisonment for bank fraud. He was recently released.

Torrealba gets points in naming his horse with such a dark twist of humor, even though 'liability' hardly brings to mind the look of eagles. Still, like all awkward monikers, the horse has a chance to transcend the wordplay and define his identity through action on the track. So far, Lundy's Liability is on course to make his name sound as sweet as Spectacular Bid.

"He is definitely a real nice horse," said Lundy, who cares for a barn of about 27 Frankel runners. "He's very classy, nothing real difficult about him. I did notice he wore a shadow roll for the first time on Sunday, but it was a cloudy day, so I'm not sure if it made a difference. He looked pretty good in it standing in the winner's circle."

While the main Frankel string trains at Hollywood Park, where assistant Humberto Ascanio is in command, Lundy's barn houses a collection of runners in light training, fresh in from lay-ups, or just off the boat from foreign ports. Eventually, most of them move over to Hollywood Park as new troops rotate, but there are exceptions. Indian Flare, the Runaway Groom filly who won at first asking Sunday - giving Alex Solis his first winner back from injury - spent all but the last couple of works with Lundy at Santa Anita.

"Right now, there is a very nice filly from Chile here at Santa Anita named Domain," Lundy said. "The same people who own Lundy's Liability have a colt here named Marenostrum. And then there's Aristocrat, Ghostzapper's full brother, who ran once last year in New York."

It might not be a bad idea to mark them down for future reference, especially since the Lundy in their life is anything but a liability.