12/23/2001 1:00AM

Frankel has both quantity and quality


ARCADIA, Calif. - A little more than two months ago, just before the Breeders' Cup, trainer Bobby Frankel had a hammerlock on the older horse division. Aptitude had won the Jockey Club Gold Cup, allowing Frankel to keep Lido Palace, the Whitney Handicap and Woodward Stakes winner, out of the Breeders' Cup Classic for the Japan Cup Dirt.

Then it all went wrong. Aptitude was the beaten favorite in the Classic, and Lido Palace ran up the track in Tokyo, a straggler in a strange land. They were rare blips during Frankel's late-season stakes assault.

Aptitude has been retired, but Lido Palace is back home, preparing for another assault on the older horse division. He is among several horses Frankel is pointing to the Grade 1, $1 million Santa Anita Handicap on March 2, the highlight of this year's Santa Anita meeting.

Frankel, concluding a season that should bring him his second straight Eclipse Award, could be battling for the training title at Santa Anita with perennial leader Bob Baffert. Frankel has top horses in just about every division you can name for 2002 - newly turned 3-year-old colts and fillies, older males and females on both turf and dirt, as well as the Breeders' Cup Sprint winner - and has depth in most divisions.

There is no clear-cut favorite for this year's Big 'Cap, unlike a year ago, when Horse of the Year Tiznow headed into the Santa Anita meeting fresh off a victory in the Breeders' Cup Classic at Churchill Downs. If nothing else, Frankel has strength in numbers.

In addition to Lido Palace, Frankel's leading older dirt horses for 2002 include Euchre, Milwaukee Brew, and Mizzen Mast, who runs in Wednesday's Grade 1, $200,000 Malibu Stakes on the opening-day card. He also is flirting with moving turf horse Aldebaran to the main track, since the son of Mr. Prospector is bred to run on dirt.

Baffert will counter with Wooden Phone, last year's Big 'Cap runner-up, and Western Canadian sensation Fancy As, the best thing to leave Vancouver since Pavel Bure was traded to the Florida Panthers. Wooden Phone is scheduled to run in the Grade 2, $200,000 San Pasqual Handicap on Jan. 5, which leads to the Grade 2, $250,000 San Antonio Handicap on Feb. 3, then the Big 'Cap.

Futural, idle since last year's Pacific Classic, will be back in action this meet, as will Freedom Crest, who upset Tiznow in the Goodwood Breeders' Cup Handicap, and Cal Cup Classic winner Irisheyesareflying, who was fourth in last year's Big 'Cap. Eastern stalwart Gander also could be back in time for the Big 'Cap for trainer John Terranova, who has a string of horses based in California this winter.

The Malibu runners, such as I Love Silver and Until Sundown, can remain in races solely for 4-year-olds of 2002 twice more - in the Grade 2, $200,000 San Fernando Breeders' Cup Stakes Jan. 12 and the Grade 2, $400,000 Strub Stakes Feb. 2 - before being forced to tackle their elders in the Big 'Cap. Look for Momentum, a powerful winner of the Native Diver Handicap in his dirt debut, the well-traveled Western Pride, and Fancy As in those races, too.

The Big 'Cap, and much of the Santa Anita stakes schedule, has been harmed in recent years by the World Cup card in Dubai in late March. But considering the current situation in the Middle East, participation in that event by United States horsemen may lessen this year, which could benefit Santa Anita.

Fillies and mares, main track

Frankel is light here, with only Flute, who might not even be back before the end of the meet. His neighbor at Hollywood Park, trainer Ron McAnally, might have the horse to beat in this division in Printemps, who, like Lido Palace and the top 2-year-old colt Siphonic, is owned by John Amerman.

Printemps skipped the Breeders' Cup Distaff because of the stiff supplementary fee, but the Chilean filly hits this meet just right. Her main goal is the Grade 1, $300,000 Santa Margarita Handicap on March 10, which McAnally has won previously with South Americans Bayakoa, Paseana, and Toda Una Dama.

Starrer, winner of Hollywood Park's Bayakoa Handicap, and 2000 Breeders' Cup Distaff winner Spain also figure prominently, along with McAnally's Lovellon and the unbeaten, lightly raced Azeri, who won two races in dazzling fashion this fall for trainer Laura de Seroux.

Males, turf

Even though it is winter, this might be the deepest and most fascinating division this season at Santa Anita. Old favorites such as long-distance specialist Bienamado and Breeders' Cup Mile winner Val Royal will be seen later in the meet, but there are a host of imports ready to make an impact.

Frankel is particularly high on Beat Hollow, who joins Hollywood Derby winner Denon as Frankel's best grass runners. McAnally is ready to unleash Tapatio, who in 2000 won the Group 1 Carlos Pelligrini in Argentina and was that country's Horse of the Year. Dark Moondancer is also ready to return for McAnally. The Wally Dollase-trained Good Journey was a game winner of the Citation Handicap; if it rains, he can pour it on. Richard Mandella has a promising Brazilian import in Straight Flush, who should make his North American debut soon.

In addition to Val Royal, trainer Julio Canani is high on the French import Zanapur. His popular miler Ladies Din also should return before the meet ends.

Fillies and mares, turf

Astra, idle since the Beverly D. Stakes in August, is back in training for new trainer de Seroux and should make the major late-season events, the Grade 2, $150,000 Santa Ana Handicap March 23 or the Grade 2, $250,000 Santa Barbara Handicap April 20. Major stakes winners Starine (Frankel) and Golden Apples (Ben Cecil) also are scheduled to run this winter.

Frankel also has the comebacking Surya, who displayed plenty of promise last summer at Del Mar, and recent European import Autumn Rhythm.

The newcomers to watch include Old Money, a Group 1 winner from Australia now trained by McAnally, and Canzone, a Brazilian mare trained by Eduardo Inda.

Three-year-old fillies

Habibti (Baffert) and You (Frankel), the one-two finishers in the Hollywood Starlet, are the early-season leaders. But don't forget about Bella Bellucci, who was given a brief freshening by trainer Neil Drysdale following her third-place finish in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies. Their main goal is the Grade 1, $300,000 Santa Anita Oaks on March 9.

A newcomer worth following, according to Canani, is A Bit Special, a Rahy filly Canani trains for Prince Ahmed Salman's The Thoroughbred Corporation. She has yet to make her debut.


If the Kona Gold era truly has passed, it won't be without a fight. The veteran sprinter is scheduled to defend his honor in the Grade 2, $200,000 Potrero Grande Breeders' Cup Handicap on March 30.

The new king of the hill is Breeders' Cup Sprint winner Squirtle Squirt, who Frankel said will make his 2002 debut in the Grade 2, $150,000 Palos Verdes Handicap on Jan. 27.

Malibu entrants Early Flyer and Yonaguska should be major players in this division all season. Swept Overboard will be back later in the meet, as will the comebacking D'wildcat. Old favorites Men's Exclusive, and the wickedly fast Freespool, give the sprint division significant depth.