01/30/2009 12:00AM

High hopes for Cassidy's La Habra pair


ARCADIA, Calif. - Without his ever-loving Redskins in the mix, Jim Cassidy will watch Sunday's Super Bowl with little more interest than someone who likes to keep his head in the game. The heart will be parked elsewhere.

Of more significance to Cassidy will be the race that gets top billing at Santa Anita that same afternoon. The La Habra Stakes, named for a town best known as the town next door to the town where Richard Nixon was born, entertains 3-year-old fillies at 6 1/2 furlongs on the grass. In deference to the national football holiday, first post at Santa Anita on Sunday is 11 a.m., with the La Habra at 2:37 p.m. and kick-off at 3:20, Pacific Sunshine Time.

This works out well, since Cassidy is bringing the three-bean dip to the party. Whether he has anything to celebrate - beyond the Boss at halftime - depends entirely upon the performances of his imported pair of Pasar Silbano and Doughnut in the feature. Yes, Doughnut.

The La Habra usually registers as not much more than a blip on the stakes radar, with a handful of exceptions. Last year, Ariege was second, then won the Santa Anita Oaks, while other past winners such as Dancing Femme, Cat's Cradle, and Hidden Light have gone on to much bigger things.

Whenever Cassidy unfurls a filly from the British Isles, though, attention should be paid. Del Mar Oaks winner Singhalese, American Oaks and Queen Elizabeth Invitational winner Ticker Tape, and CashCall Mile winner Diamond Diva are among the reasons why. In 2003, the imported Katdogawn finished second in the La Habra for Cassidy, a prelude to happy endings in the San Clemente and the Dahlia later in the year.

Doughnut is English through and through, and Pasar Silbano is the Irish lass. They have raced at places like Dundalk, Folkstone, and Bath, as well as the big rooms of Ascot, Goodwood, and the Curragh. What truly sets them apart, though, is their combined total of 16 starts as 2-year-olds, which, come to think of it, is more than the Horse of the Year campaigns of Saint Liam, Invasor, and Ghostzapper combined.

Even with experience, Cassidy's fillies are still very much works in progress. Pasar Silbano, 4 for 7 last year, won a listed stakes at the Curragh and made her American debut in the Moccasin Stakes at Hollywood Park for Gerard Lyons before joining the Cassidy string. Doughnut, who won 2 of 9 last year, spent most of her time in slightly lesser company than her stablemate, and will be making her American debut.

"Pasar Silbano looks like she might be a serious filly," Cassidy said. "The only concern is that I might have done too much with her. There was one work where she saw another horse she had to catch. Another couple times a horse jumped in with her and she had to show herself.

"As for Doughnut, I would think she will need a race," Cassidy added. "She's a lot like Katdogawn. In fact, the boys at the barn wanted to put her in Kat's stall, and I said okay. If she turns out like Kat, that'll be okay."

With his ruddy, lived-in face, thick chest, and low center of gravity, Cassidy has the look of a guy you'd want with you in a bar, especially if things got rough. He also wears a Yankees cap, hardly a peace symbol, and tends to tell people exactly what he thinks, talking full advantage of his native New York tongue.

This is hardly the profile of the diplomatic politician. And yet Cassidy, 63, finds himself in the role of president of the California Thoroughbred Trainers Association, representing his backstretch constituency on all manner of important issues. Lately, the focus has been on the synthetic racing surface at Santa Anita, which went through a bad stretch during cold weather early in the meet, as well as stabling, which could hit a crisis point with the likely closing of Hollywood Park later this year.

"We met yesterday with the folks training at Fairplex," Cassidy said, referring to the county fair facility just east of Santa Anita that could become an important stabling resource for mainstream outfits. "I thought it might have a tendency to get a little ugly, but they were just appreciative of the fact that we're not going to run them out of there. I told them that really the only problem we'd have is that the horses there not eligible to race would have to leave."

Even when the meetings go well, Cassidy's patience will be sorely tested as head of the trainers' group. And yet, when it comes to all manner of eccentric, touchy female Thoroughbreds, he comes off like Gentle Ben. Late Friday morning, Cassidy was schooling his La Habra fillies in the Santa Anita paddock when Doughnut, on edge, let her personality leak.

"I was just quietly putting a little saddle on her," Cassidy said. "You'd have thought I was tearing her heart out."

An old-fashioned cowboy would teach her a lesson. Cassidy, whose pedigree includes show-jumping and a stint as a veterinarian's aide, is not a believer in tough love.

"No, I like to gentle them," he said. "They've got a tough enough job as is."