04/18/2006 12:00AM

'Fog' returns with eye on Cup

Vassar Photography
Lost in the Fog's goal in 2006 is the BC Sprint.

ALBANY, Calif. - The curtain for Lost in the Fog, Act 2, opens Saturday in the $100,000 Golden Gate Fields Sprint. The race will be the first for Lost in the Fog since he finished seventh in the Breeders' Cup Sprint last Oct. 29 at Belmont, the only loss of his career.

Owner Harry Aleo, trainer Greg Gilchrist, and jockey Russell Baze can't wait. Neither, it seems, can Lost in the Fog, who has not missed a beat in preparation for his defense of his 2005 Eclipse Award as the champion sprinter.

His final work Saturday was a five-furlong drill at Golden Gate in an eye-popping 57 seconds, which was more than two seconds the best of 39 runners at the distance that morning.

"He's back to his old ornery self, and that's good," said Baze, who was aboard for the work. "Even after that work, when the pony came up, he tried to bite his neck, and I really had to jerk on the reins to stop him."

Gilchrist said he couldn't be happier with Lost in the Fog's preparations for his return to the races. Lost in the Fog has worked 10 times for Saturday's race and has not missed a single workout despite the record rainfall this winter in northern California.

Lost in the Fog, 4, may not have many rivals Saturday, and the race could become a virtual match race between him and speedball Carthage, who has won the San Carlos Handicap and Fairfax Stakes in his last two starts, earning triple-digit Beyers both times.

If there's a good time to meet Lost in the Fog, it may be Saturday.

"This will not be Lost in the Fog's best race," said Gilchrist.

The real goal in 2006 is the Breeders' Cup Sprint at Churchill Downs, and the Golden Gate Fields Sprint is only the first step. The reality is that Saturday is a prep race, even if it is on Lost in the Fog's home track, even if it may be his one and only northern California appearance of the year.

And there is a certain pressure on Gilchrist.

"This is Lost in the Fog," he said. "He's not supposed to lose."

Lost in the Fog ran nine times in 2005. He flew cross-country seven times, with three trips to Florida and four to New York, gaining a national reputation along the way.

Racing fans love speed, and Lost in the Fog has that in abundance. He earned triple-digit Beyers in his first 10 starts and became such a headliner that Gilchrist became the first losing trainer in Breeders' Cup history to have to conduct a postrace interview in the interview room for all the press.

Lost in the Fog's campaign will be different this year as he shoots for the one goal that eluded him last year, a Breeders' Cup victory. Gilchrist said he plans to run Lost in the Fog only four or five times before the Breeders' Cup but has not mapped out specific races yet.

"A horse only has so many races," Gilchrist said. "When you use them is up to you. If the Breeders' Cup is the goal, you try to get there and make it your best race of the year."

Gilchrist said he would not crisscross the country this year. He believes that the cross-country travel last year took a toll on Lost in the Fog.

"I doubt we'll make three trips to Florida and three to New York before the Breeders' Cup this year," he said. "That last race was too much. We'd squeezed the lemon dry and went one too many times.

"I knew we'd be in trouble in the paddock, but when he took for the lead turning for home I hoped I was wrong. When he didn't pull away, I knew it was over."

Aleo has been in racing for 27 years and loves going to the track in the morning, perhaps even more than coming to the races in the afternoon. When Lost in the Fog gallops past him, he said, he sometimes has to pinch himself.

As for Gilchrist: "How many people get to train an Eclipse Award winner?" he said.

Gilchrist may be training Lost in the Fog a lot longer. Aleo said he plans to run him this year and next.

"My life's a hell of a lot more exciting than it was," Aleo said. "We're going to run as long as he's healthy. You can't put a price on this last year. If I just wanted money, I'd still be working. Watching him run, that's the whole fun and joy of owning horses."