08/03/2004 11:00PM

Home away from home at the Spa

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SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - When trainer Bob Baffert runs horses in two big stakes at Saratoga this weekend, he will do so with the assistance of Tonja Terranova.

Terranova, with the help of her husband, John, who is a trainer, has been overseeing Baffert's East Coast division for several years. When Baffert ships horses from California to run in New York and Florida, Tonja cares for them.

In many instances, Baffert's horses remain with the Terranovas for more than one race. Such is the case with Sarava, who will run in Saturday's Grade 1, $750,000 Whitney. Sarava, who won the 2002 Belmont Stakes when he was trained by Ken McPeek, arrived in New York in the spring. He finished sixth in the Grade 2 Massachusetts Handicap at Suffolk Downs in June and fifth in the Grade 1 Suburban at Belmont in July.

Another Baffert runner, Courageous Act, was scheduled to ship to Saratoga on Thursday to run in Sunday' Grade 2, $500,000 Jim Dandy. He will be among 11 Baffert horses Tonja has in her care at Saratoga.

On Aug. 21, Baffert will be represented by the Delaware Oaks winner, Yearly Report, in the Grade 1, $750,000 Alabama.

Over the summer, Tonja saddled Friendly Michelle for Baffert to win the Grade 1 Prioress at Belmont. Last Saturday, Friendly Michelle finished fourth in the Grade 1 Test.

Even though Baffert's name appears as the trainer when his horses run in New York, Tonja said she and John, who has a stable of 15 of his own horses, have gained recognition because of the success they have had with Baffert's horses.

The most accomplished runner John Terranova has trained is Gander, a multiple New York-bred champion with more than $1.8 million in earnings. Brothers Mike and Ted Gatsas, who sought out John after they had read about him and Tonja and their successful relationship with Baffert, own Gander.

"The Gatsases, our main owners, heard of us when we got a lot of press with River Keen, a horse Bob sent to us who won the [1999] Woodward and Jockey Club Gold Cup," Tonja said.

Tonja, 34, met Baffert in the early 1990's when she was living in California and working as an assistant for Brian Mayberry. Mayberry's daughter April worked for Baffert, and the whole group became friends.

Tonja began dating John in 1992, and moved with him to New York in 1993.

Before the Terranovas married in 1999, Tonja worked as Baffert's assistant in Kentucky and was associated with some of his most accomplished runners, including two-time champion Silverbulletday. During the 1999 Saratoga meet, the Terranovas cared for Silverbulletday, who won the Alabama, and Forestry, the winner of the Grade 1 King's Bishop.

Tonja said although she and Baffert speak daily, mapping out race and training schedules, she doesn't pester him with the minutiae surrounding the daily routine.

"If we planned to work horses and it's raining at 2:30 in the morning, I'm not going to call him and ask what to do - we just won't work that day," Tonja said. "He has that trust in us. But it's easy to call him about anything."

There was one call that was difficult for Tonja to make. The Baffert-trained Multiplication, winner of the Mike Lee Stakes at Belmont in June, dropped dead of a heart attack after working one morning in July at Belmont.

"It was a very upsetting day," Tonja said. "Bob said, 'It was a good thing that it happened when the horse was walking home and nobody got hurt.' He's very understanding about things."

Baffert said the relationship he has with Tonja has been mutually beneficial, but extends beyond just a working one.

"We have a good working rapport," said Baffert, a three-time Eclipse Award winner. "Tonja knows my operation and works very hard. She is very appreciative of good horses and has done nothing but the very best. Besides that, she is like family - a sister to me."