12/05/2003 12:00AM

Flashy Baffert 2-year-old? Hey, we've seen it before!


PHOENIX - It's late November 1998 at Hollywood Park, and trainer Bob Baffert sends out a 2-year-old, bred and owned by the Golden Eagle Farm of John and Betty Mabee. Sired by General Meeting, the colt is working fast and he wins, earning a 93 Beyer Speed Figure. He returns on New Year's Day in the California Breeders at Santa Anita, and wins. He wheels back in the Santa Catalina, his first route race, and wins, with a 95 Beyer.

The colt, General Challenge, would go on to win nine races, including the Santa Anita Derby, Pacific Classic, Strub, and Santa Anita Handicap, and more than $2.8 million.

Fast forward to last week. Again it's the final week of November, the 29th, and Baffert sends out a 2-year-old offspring of General Meeting for owner/breeder Golden Eagle Farm. This time it's the filly Yearly Report, and under Julie Krone she makes a smashing debut - biding her time early, settling into stride, making a strong run on the far turn, and winning easily. Yearly Report's 87 Beyer indicates that she is a runner.

Credit Baffert for taking his time with General Challenge, who had a marvelous career. After his splashy maiden win, he returned in a sprint against California-breds, then stretched out in an ungraded stakes in which he wasn't asked to face the top 3-year-olds in the West.

Baffert's cautious itinerary allowed General Challenge to grow into his huge body and tremendous talent. A brutal trip in the 1999 Kentucky Derby did not help his resume, but at his peak General Challenge was as talented as any horse around.

It's too early to put Yearly Report in that category. She has the misfortune of being in a 2-year-old filly crop that includes the dazzling divisional champion-to-be Halfbridled as well as another Baffert trainee, Victory U. S. A. But some parallels with General Challenge exist. Yearly Report won her six-furlong debut geared down, and the timing works for Baffert, because - as he did with General Challenge - he can bring Yearly Report back versus Cal-breds at seven furlongs in Santa Anita's Cal Breeders Stakes on Dec. 27. Or he can skip that race and go directly to the 1 1/16-mile, Grade 3 Santa Ysabel on Jan. 4. Or he can go in the Cal Breeders, then come back on Jan. 19 in the Grade 2 Santa Ynez at seven furlongs.

Regardless, Yearly Report showed she can run, and being by General Meeting she figures to end up in major route races as she develops.

Another promising young runner also made a splash at Hollywood Park last week. A day before Yearly Report's debut, trainer Bobby Frankel cut loose yet another potent turf female in Theater R. N.

A 3-year-old filly, she is by champion Theatrical out of the top-class turf route mare Yokama. She debuted on Oct. 26 at Santa Anita going 1 1/8 miles on the turf, and blasted home a clear winner, posting an 80 Beyer.

Last week, she returned versus winners, going 1 1/4 miles at Hollywood Park, and it wasn't so much that she won as it was the way that she won. She bided her time early, then reeled in the leaders under Pat Valenzuela while well in hand. As they straightened into the stretch, she was behind a wall of horses and steadied hard. Valenzuela steered her outside, but after that kind of trouble, in only her second career start and first time going a distance, she figured to flatten out.

But she did not. She regrouped and surged in the final furlong, drawing off to win as much the best, earning an 86 Beyer.

With her pedigree and with Frankel calling the shots, there's no telling where the ceiling is for Theater R. N. You might see her next in the 1 1/8-mile, Grade 2 San Gorgonio at Santa Anita on Jan. 10.

Wherever she runs next, she bears watching.