04/02/2002 1:00AM

Is Homeland's third U.S. start the charm?

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ARCADIA, Calif. - Homeland's two-start U.S. career has been a disaster, but in the Grade 2 Arcadia Handicap on Sunday, there are reasons to believe this gray will show signs of life. The $150,000 Arcadia, at 1 1/8 miles on turf, will be the first time Homeland has had a fair chance.

Imported from France after a winning three straight starts, he could not handle the "yielding" footing in the Hollywood Derby and checked in 11th. Trainer Ben Cecil said Homeland was working well for his second U.S. start, in the San Marino Handicap on Feb. 17, but that race was rained off turf and switched to the main track. "In hindsight, I shouldn't have run him," Cecil said.

Homeland's poor behavior in the paddock before the San Marino cost him any chance at a stud career. "He was his own worst enemy and was a real [jerk] in the paddock, so I gelded him. It has helped some."

The nine-furlong distance of the Arcadia is shorter than Homeland's preference, but his European form suggests he fits. He will face a field expected to include Irish Prize,. El Gran Papa, Kerrygold, Seinne, Sligo Bay, Sumitas, and Sumati. Homeland has won 5 of 11 starts overall

Azillion won't go in Derby

Azillion is stabled at Churchill Downs, nominated to the Kentucky Derby, and one of 23 individual horses listed for Pool 3 of the Kentucky Derby Future Wager this week. However, barring unforeseen developments, Azillion will not start in the Kentucky Derby, according to his Santa Anita-based trainer Bob Hess.

"We left the door open a crack, but the mission is the Belmont Stakes, it always has been," Hess said Tuesday. "He'll run in the Blue Grass [April 13], the Lone Star Derby, and then the Belmont. He belongs on the [Future Wager] list, but to go to the Derby, it has to be logical."

Hess has been forced to find a new rider for two of his top runners. Mike Smith rode Azillion to a runner-up finish in the Spiral, but has April 13 commitments at Aqueduct. So Hess has Corey Nakatani riding Azillion in the Blue Grass. Nakatani also picks up the mount on the Hess-trained Penny Marie, one of the favorites Sunday in the Grade 3 Las Cienegas at Santa Anita. Kent Desormeaux rode the mare to victory March 7, but is committed to Rolly Polly for the Las Cienegas.

Officer pumped for 2002 debut

Officer showed his his readiness for the $100,000 Zany Tactics on Sunday with a crisp five-furlong workout Tuesday in 58 seconds. The time was three-fifths faster than the second-fastest of 30 workouts at the distance. Officer has not raced since Dec. 15, but figures to come back blazing in the 6 1/2-furlong Zany Tactics for California-breds.

"He got ready really quick," trainer Bob Baffert said. "They were doing [light training] with him at the farm. He didn't just come out of the stall."

Officer won his first five starts last year, then tailed off through fall. His main challenge Sunday will be hoping the Zany Tactics will fill. Baffert said racing secretary Mike Harlow told him the race would be used with "three or four" starters.

Smith lands on Nokoma

A commitment to ride Snow Ridge in the Grade 1 Carter on April 13 at Aqueduct prevented Mike Smith from considering the ride Azillion the same day at Keeneland.

However, Smith may fare well despite the conflict. His agent, Brian Beach, said Smith has gained the mount on Wood Memorial contender Nokoma.

The journey to Dubai was the career finale for Blade Prospector, eighth-place finisher in the $1 million Godolphin Mile. According to trainer A.C. Avila, Blade Prospector popped a quarter crack that was patched four days before the race, but the leg later became infected so he was retired. He won 10 of 26 starts and $283,296. He will stand at Ponta Pora in Brazil.