01/23/2003 1:00AM

Farewell to one star, hello to another

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ARCADIA, Calif. - Forbidden Apple is 8 years old and going out; Mayakovsky is only 4 years old and coming up. The veteran and the upstart arrive at career crossroads Saturday, when they meet once and for all in the $750,000 Sunshine Millions Turf at Santa Anita.

Plucked out of retirement for one more start, Forbidden Apple races Saturday for the 31st and final time. A Grade 1 winner who is the class of the Turf field, Forbidden Apple enters stud at Bridlewood Farm in Florida this spring. The future is less certain for Mayakovsky. He threatens to become an important older horse, but he still must prove it. Saturday, for the first time in his seven-start career, he will string together his third consecutive race without interruption. So who will it be - the veteran, the upstart, or one of 11 others in the first of four Sunshine Millions races at Santa Anita?

The six Florida-breds hold a decided advantage over the seven California-breds (including the lone also-eligible) in the 1 1/8-mile Turf. The field includes East Coast shipper Miesque's Approval, a Florida-bred graded stakes winner; unrelenting California-bred Spinelessjellyfish, 10 for 34 lifetime; effective stretch-runner Music's Storm, a Florida-bred who is based in California; graded stakes winner Special Matter, a California-bred; and Cal-bred Turkish Prize, 11 for 41.

Forbidden Apple is the 7-5 favorite largely because he is the best horse in the race. After all, he has won eight races and $1.6 million from 30 starts for owner-breeder Arthur Appleton. However, Forbidden Apple's form is open to interpretation. He was sent to Bridlewood Farm after a dull third at odds-on in a Dec. 7 stakes at Sam Houston. Forbidden Apple was going to stud. Plans changed.

"He was training so well when he came to the farm that we felt he was asking us for one more chance," said George Isaacs, racing and farm manager at Bridlewood.

With the breeding season still weeks away, Forbidden Apple was aimed for one final start in the $750,000 Turf. Trained by Christophe Clemente, Forbidden Apple has only one published work in the seven weeks since he raced, though he has trained daily. Although he looked a picture of health this week at Santa Anita, handicappers might consider him vulnerable.

Meanwhile, Mayakovsky is attempting to reestablish himself. He may have found the perfect spot. A confirmed front-runner, Mayakovsky raced gate to wire in a two-other-than turf allowance Jan. 9. Trainer Patrick Biancone expects continued improvement.

"It's not like he's run 25 times already. I think he's going to get better and better race to race," Biancone said. "For the first time in his life, he'll be able to run three races in a row, and his cruising speed is so much faster than most of the horses."

Biancone is right. Mayakovsky and jockey Tony Farina may establish a clear early advantage. If Mayakovsky relaxes on the lead, and kicks as strongly as last time (final quarter in 23.24 seconds), he could be home free.

Mayakovsky's challenge is distance - nine furlongs with the turf rails down. The advantage Mayakovsky held in his most recent win at one mile (the turf rails were at the speed-favoring setting of 30 feet) could be negated. Spinelessjellyfish faces a similar problem stretching out from a sprint win. Trainer Jenine Sahadi recognizes the issue.

"A mile and an eighth is a mile and an eighth, but it's a lot of money," Sahadi said. "All I know is that for the last five years, this horse has fired every time I ran him. He doesn't look like a 7-year-old, and he doesn't act like a 7-year-old."