12/07/2005 12:00AM

Expect a fresh Stellar Magic in return

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ALBANY, Calif. - Stellar Magic had his 15 minutes of fame, winning the $100,000 San Mateo Mile before crashing and burning in the El Camino Real Derby.

He may get more than 15 minutes now after having surgery to clear up minor problems in both knees and both ankles.

Stellar Magic is expected to make his first start since finishing last in the El Camino Real Derby when he runs in the $50,000-added Larkspur Stakes at Golden Gate Fields on Saturday.

"I'm thrilled with the way he came back. He hasn't had a bad day," said trainer Brian Pitnick, who also owns a share of Stellar Magic.

Stellar Magic went from contender to last-place finisher in a matter of strides in the El Camino. He was picking up momentum as a hole opened at just the right time near the quarter pole. Stellar Magic would have been third and rolling once he split rivals, but the hole closed just as he started through, and he had to check hard, losing all momentum. The race was over, and jockey Dennis Carr wisely wrapped up on his mount.

Pitnick gave Stellar Magic 150 days off instead of 90 before starting him back, and the break worked wonders. Stellar Magic is bigger and stronger, but Pitnick said what pleases him most is the attitude. Stellar Magic has trained eagerly in his five works, including a pair of bullet drills. His final work, on Nov. 30, was a five-furlong bullet in the mud in 59 seconds, the best of 15 works at the distance.

"He worked fast, and it scared me a bit," Pitnick said. "We've done a lot of two-minute licking, and all his works except that one have come at the end of a two-minute lick. I worked him in company last time, and he came home very fast."

Though he is a stakes winner at one mile, Stellar Magic is 2 for 2 going six furlongs at Golden Gate Fields, including his debut.

Pitnick said he expects a good effort. "Last year, we waited an extra three weeks for his debut because a race at Bay Meadows didn't fill, and the next maiden race was on a wet track and had a colt named Lost in the Fog in it," Pitnick said.

Pitnick said Stellar Magic might need this race, but added, "You have to say what's the best spot for the horse, and this looks like the best spot."

Apprentice Garcia hot since return

Apprentice jockey Martin Garcia returned to action last week after suffering a concussion in a Sept. 23 spill at Bay Meadows.

Garcia won five races - two on Thursday, two on Sunday, and one on Saturday. He almost won another Saturday, but lost with Lunachick in the final stride of the Angel Island Stakes, which was won by Thrilling Victory.

Garcia was seriously injured when his mount, Cruz'n Memo, fell and pitched him face first onto the track at Bay Meadows on Sept. 23. He was kicked in the head by a trailing horse. At the time, Garcia was third in the standings behind Russell Baze and Roberto Gonzalez.

A 20-year-old native of Veracruz, Mexico, Garcia began his riding career this year. He was working in a restaurant in Pleasanton when he asked the restaurant's owner if he could come with her to see her show horse. The owner put Garcia up on the horse for a gallop. Later, after going to the races for the first time, Garcia said he wanted to find out more.

"I liked the place, and I wanted to learn, so I starting galloping and jogging horses," he said.

Garcia proved to be a fast learner.

"Maybe sometimes if you want to be something, you focus very hard," he said. "People tell you how to do things, and you listen because you have to be correct. I'm learning more and more and more."

Garcia rides Awesome Beginning in Friday's Golden Gate feature, a $40,000 starter allowance at 1 1/16 miles on the turf. A 4-year-old filly, Awesome Beginning is 1 for 29 in her career.

The one to beat could be Playin 'r Song, who makes her turf debut. She won her lone start around two turns.