02/06/2004 1:00AM

F J's Pace better with age


ARCADIA, Calif. - F J's Pace, a 9-year-old gelding, has won more in the last year than at any time in his seven-season career.

Friday at Santa Anita, F J's Pace won an $80,000 claiming race on the hillside turf course, his 17th win in 60 career starts.

The front-running victory ended a three-race losing streak, his longest since the spring and summer of 2002. It also marked his eighth win in 21 starts on Santa Anita's turf course and was his sixth victory in the last year.

"He hasn't shown any signs in the morning that he's slowing down," said trainer Doug O'Neill.

While his stakes days are behind him, F J's Pace has found a niche running in turf sprints.

Friday, F J's Pace led by 1 1/2 lengths on the hillside and shook off a threat from Zayed in early stretch to win by a half-length over Puma, a 24-1 shot.

"I thought he was done," O'Neill said of the stretch run. "I thought the other horse had him. He's amazing."

Ridden by Tyler Baze, F J's Pace ($7.60) was timed in a quick 1:12.24 for about 6 1/2 furlongs.

"If he gets an uncontested lead, he's very tough," O'Neill said. "Tyler is getting to know him so well. He resents being hit. You can show it to him, but if you hit him with it, he'll stop."

F J's Pace has been accomplished throughout his career. He finished second in the Grade 3 Generous Stakes in 1997, when he was trained by Bob Baffert. His lone stakes win came in the 2002 Aprisa Handicap for sprinters at Fairplex Park. In the 2003 Aprisa, F J's Pace was only fourth in a field of five. He has not started in a stakes since.

F J's Pace is owned by Rene and Margie Lambert, who campaigned the top California-bred Sky Jack until he was retired in November.

O'Neill intends to keep F J's Pace in high-priced claimers for turf sprinters in coming months. F J's Pace is effective away from Santa Anita, having won turf sprints at Del Mar and Hollywood Park in the last year.

While F J's Pace was an impressive winner Friday, O'Neill realizes he is training an older horse who may be retired at the end of the year. If so, F J's Pace could join Sky Jack on a farm at the Lamberts' home.

"I got a feeling this is his farewell tour," O'Neill said. "For $62,500 or $80,000, we can keep doing this. Hopefully, we'll have him until he retires and he can hang out with Sky Jack."

Weight reduced for Toccet

Toccet's weight assignment for Saturday's $300,000 Strub Stakes was changed from 123 pounds to 117 pounds after owner Daniel Borislow protested to Santa Anita racing officials and track stewards that the original assignment was incorrect.

The stewards ruled in Borislow's favor Friday.

Toccet was originally given an assignment of 123 pounds, the highest weight possible for the Grade 2 race over 1 1/8 miles for 4-year-olds.

Toccet was not awarded a break in the weights because it was mistakenly deemed that he did not qualify for the two-pound allowance in the conditions of the race for "non-winners of $200,000 twice or $300,000 once at one mile or over since May 1, 2003."

Toccet had not won a first-place prize of $200,000 since 2002, when he won the Champagne Stakes and Hollywood Futurity.

Borislow also argued that Toccet should be given a six-pound break to 117 pounds because he qualified under the condition for horses that had not won a first-place purse of $100,000 at a mile or over in 2003-04 or $60,000 at any distance since July 1.

The only race Toccet had won since July 1 was a $35,000 race at Philadelphia Park.

Racing secretary Rick Hammerle said the Strub conditions would be clarified for the 2005 running.

"Any time something isn't clear, it's not good," he said.

More than a decade ago, the conditions for the Strub Stakes would not have favored Toccet. Until 1991, part of the conditions read that "winners of $300,000 or more as 2-year-old to carry no less than 122 pounds, regardless of later winnings."

The phrase was deleted from conditions for the 1992 running. The current conditions place horses at weight assignments ranging from 123 to 117 pounds depending on accomplishments.

Lukas out to snap skid in Sham

Trainer D. Wayne Lukas's California stable is in the midst of a slump.

Through Thursday, Lukas was winless with 41 starters at Santa Anita, including four seconds and three thirds.

One of the thirds came with Gethsemani in the Grade 3 San Miguel Stakes over six furlongs on Jan. 11.

Owned by Arthur Hancock and Stonerside Stable, Gethsemani returns in Sunday's $75,000 Sham Stakes, a race that includes 2003 champion 2-year-old male Action This Day.

Lukas did not predict victory, but he said Gethsemani needs longer races such as the Sham distance of 1 1/8 miles.

"He's a Saint Ballado, and I think he wants two turns," Lukas said.

A winner of one race in eight starts, Gethsemani has been second or third in six other races. In his only start around two turns, Gethsemani was third in a maiden race at Keeneland last October. The San Miguel Stakes marked the Gethsemani's California debut.

Lukas says Gethsemani is "one of several colts" with Triple Crown potential in his stable, but he did not name his favorites. He expects the stable to rebound as the important 3-year-old races of the spring draw closer.

"We're not trying to build momentum in January and February," Lukas said.

The best known horse in Lukas's California stable is Azeri, the 2002 Horse of the Year and the champion older mare of 2002 and 2003.

Lukas said Azeri continues to train for a comeback. Previously trained by Laura de Seroux, Azeri suffered a tendon injury last October but was put back in training with Lukas in December. She has yet to breeze.

"We don't have an agenda," Lukas said. "She hasn't missed a day and she's getting close to a work."