02/15/2006 1:00AM

Excitement brews over 'Fog'

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Lost in the Fog is tentatively pointing to the six-furlong Golden Gate Fields Sprint on April 22 for the first start of his 4-year-old campaign.

ARCADIA, Calif. - Any running of the San Carlos Handicap is cause enough to trot out the memories, and Saturday's running is no exception.

As one of Santa Anita's bedrock events, the San Carlos was among the original gang of stakes offered during the inaugural season that spanned the final week of 1934 and the first three months of 1935. And even though the San Carlos began life as a race at 1 1/16 miles (Discovery and Kayak, no less, were both winners), it soon settled into its steady groove as the foremost sprint race of the California winter. On Saturday, it will be presented for the 63rd time at seven furlongs.

Over the past decade, the San Carlos has been cruelly yanked back and forth between a Grade 1 and a Grade 2 rating, which says a whole lot more about the fickle rating system than it does about the race itself.

But if the Graded Stakes Committee is confused about the importance of the race, local fans certainly are not. Its deep-dish history reveals such winners as Porterhouse, Hillsdale, Native Diver, Ack Ack, Ancient Title, Flying Paster, Phone Trick, Farma Way, and Cardmania, while the heroes of the most recent decade include Big Jag, Kona Gold, Aldebaran, and Pico Central. That's a Grade A bunch, by any sensible measurement.

Unfortunately, this year's San Carlos field will be laboring in the long shadow of the Big Horse, better known as Lost in the Fog, who is gone from competition right now but certainly not forgotten.

The day that Lost in the Fog returns to action will be worthy of celebration. Right now, the reigning sprint champion is marking time, getting back in the swing of things while training in his cozy Golden Gate Fields backyard. After 60 days of R and R in Florida, the champ had his first official work of the year last Sunday - three-eighths in 36.20 seconds - which means the team of Greg Gilchrist, Russell Baze, and Harry Aleo will be on the road again before too long.

Reached Wednesday morning as he sent out his last set, Gilchrist sounded like the manager of a World Series winner at the dawn of spring training. There was no more time to savor past glories. The pressure of the coming season was nigh. Gilchrist was about to learn, first hand, what F. Scott Fitzgerald meant about the difference between "the becoming" and "the being."

"I think you'll get this from most trainers, at least trainers lucky enough to have a horse like this," Gilchrist said. "When you bring one back from 10 out of 11 wins, and everything he did, it's almost ludicrous to think that you're going to do that again. Horses don't forget how to run. You just hope they come back with the same competitive spirit and the same desire they had before. If they do that, you're going to be just fine."

Gilchrist and Aleo have lightly circled the six-furlong Golden Gate Fields Sprint on April 22 as Lost in the Fog's point of return. His work last Sunday was the first of about 10 moves to get him back in the game, but April 22 is certainly not set in stone.

"I'm probably different now than when I began training horses," Gilchrist said. "At that point, I probably forced things a little more than I do now. I think when you try and fit the horse to the race, a lot of times you wind up with big problems. If you have the horse, the race will show up somewhere. But if you've ruined the horse trying to make a race, then you end up at home watching it on television.

"He's always been easy on himself training," Gilchrist said. "That's part of the reason he's stayed sound so long, although he does want to work fast. I think the lights came on a little the other day. Otherwise he's a pretty laid-back horse. But then, you've probably got to be laid back to accomplish what he did last year."

For those who might have forgotten, Lost in the Fog ran nine times as a 3-year-old, shipped back and forth to the East Coast for seven of those races, won eight, and lost only the Breeders' Cup Sprint at Belmont. Gilchrist makes no excuses for Lost in the Fog's defeat that day, other than to point out the obvious.

"It was the end of a long year," he said. "There was a lot of traveling, 16 months of training, and eight or nine hard races, with a lot involved in getting to the places where he raced. Anytime you run the sum of the times he ran in, you're taking something out of yourself. He just makes it look so easy, when you've got to know it's not."

At this point, with the spotlight full blast on their every move, it will be a treat to watch Gilchrist orchestrate Lost in the Fog's 4-year-old campaign. Not surprisingly, Gilchrist himself is torn between old school caution and downright awe.

"Horses like him are just tougher," Gilchrist said. "I think sometimes when things get going good and seem easy, we get to thinking they're superhuman - or superhorse, I guess - and they can do anything. But you always have to keep your feet on the ground and keep in mind what you have in front of you."