04/06/2005 11:00PM

Hughes may have his best Derby hope yet


ARCADIA, Calif. - The Triple Crown trail is becoming an annual event for owner B. Wayne Hughes. But after disappointing trips to the Kentucky Derby the last two years, Hughes is hoping to have something to celebrate this spring.

Next month, Hughes may be headed back to the Kentucky Derby with Don't Get Mad, a top contender in Saturday's $750,000 .

Trained by Ron Ellis, Don't Get Mad has placed in two stakes this year at Santa Anita. Hughes, who watched Atswhatimtalknbout finish fourth in the 2003 Kentucky Derby and Action This Day run sixth last year, said he thinks Don't Get Mad may represent his best chance in this year's Kentucky Derby.

In addition to Don't Get Mad, Hughes has another contender in Greeley's Galaxy, who starts for trainer Warren Stute in Saturday's Illinois Derby at Hawthorne.

"It would be three years in a row," Hughes said, dreaming of making the Derby. "I would be astonished since I had 20-something years with zero starters."

Hughes is banking on the Santa Anita Derby distance of 1 1/8 miles to work to Don't Get Mad's advantage.

A win or a fast finish by Don't Get Mad would give Hughes and Ellis a reason to send the colt to the Kentucky Derby.

"I think he has to run a very good race," Hughes said Thursday. "If he were to finish second or third, closing, I think that would warrant a trip. The distance will be his thing, we hope. We should find that out on Saturday. We believe he really will like it."

A winner of 2 of 4 starts, Don't Get Mad finished second in the Grade 2 San Vicente Stakes over seven furlongs on Feb. 13 and third in the Grade 2 San Felipe Stakes over 1 1/16 miles on March 19. Both races were over wet-fast tracks.

Since his last start, Hughes has been impressed with Don't Get Mad's training. Don't Get Mad officially worked five furlongs in 1:01.40 under jockey Tyler Baze last Sunday, but Hughes said it was a six-furlong workout in 1:14.

"He has come up to it perfect," Hughes said. "His last work in 1:14, he had Tyler on him, and he finished well. After the work he was playing and bucking. Tyler was telling him to save it for the race. That's about as good as you can have him come up."

The Triple Crown trail has been a frustration for Hughes. Atswhatimtalknbout was favored in the 2003 Santa Anita Derby but finished fourth behind Buddy Gil. Atswhatimtalknbout finished two lengths behind Funny Cide in the Kentucky Derby, closing from 12th.

"He got boxed in and couldn't get loose," Hughes said. "We had a good shot at winning. It was bad luck."

Atswhatimtalknabout died last summer of an apparent internal injury.

Action this Day was the champion 2-year-old male of 2003, but was bothered by sore muscles in his hind end last year. He finished sixth in the Kentucky Derby, 10 3/4 lengths behind Smarty Jones.

"He wasn't well. His muscles in his back were giving him trouble," Hughes said. "He wasn't able to show it, but he was a very good horse. We just couldn't get it corrected no matter what we did. He was very sore."

Earlier this year, after a failed comeback, Action this Day was sent to stud in Kentucky.

Don't Get Mad is Hughes's latest hope, and one in which he has confidence.

"We're ready to go," Hughes said. "The Santa Anita Derby is a goal in itself, standing alone. That would be a big deal for me."

Sekiguchi is owner of $8 million colt

The worst-kept secret in racing can finally be revealed.

Months after denying that he was the purchaser of an $8 million Storm Cat colt at the Keeneland yearling sales last fall, Fusao Sekiguchi has instructed trainer Bob Baffert to come clean and let the world know that, indeed, Sekiguchi bought the now 2-year-old colt. The colt is training at Santa Anita with Baffert, but has yet to be named.

"Around the barn, we refer to him as Fusaichi Big Bucks," Baffert said. "He's been here a couple of weeks. Mr. Sekiguchi wants me to get him ready with next year's classics in mind. He's got a great mind for a Storm Cat.

"It's very excited to have one like him," Baffert said. "It's like having the only Ferrari on the block."

Sekiguchi, who lives in Japan, won the 2000 Kentucky Derby with Fusaichi Pegasus, who was trained by Neil Drysdale. Sekiguchi has other horses with Baffert, including Fusaichi Rock Star, who won the San Vicente Stakes at Santa Anita in February.

Baze could sit out Friday card

Baze, the leading rider at this meeting through Wednesday, took off his mounts Thursday after being unseated during a morning workout.

Baze underwent an examination Thursday morning by Dr. James Tibone, who works closely with Southern California riders. Baze suffered no broken bones and was only body sore, according to his agent, Ivan Puhich.

Puhich said Baze may miss Friday's program, but would ride Saturday.

"I may take him off" on Friday, Puhich said. "If he can jog with me, he can ride. I don't jog too good at 79. The main part is his knee, ankle, and hip isn't hurt. His lower calf was pretty tight."

Track ditches illustration ads

The advertising campaign for Saturday's Santa Anita Derby is missing a popular component this year. The wacky illustrations of the entrants, which were the focus of print advertisements since the 1980's, have been discontinued along with the buttons for individual horses that used those illustrations. Those buttons quickly became collector's items.

The campaign may have been corny at times, but it called attention to the race and the illustrations made people laugh.

For example, in a 1999 advertisement, Charismatic was depicted in a tennis outfit, Prime Timber was riding a skateboard, and General Challenge was a tattooed basketball player. Each illustration was accompanied by a small story describing the horse's individual traits.

According to track general manager George Haines, "Marketing decided to go with a new look."

* There is a $1 million guaranteed pick six pool on Saturday's 11-race program. The pick six covers the sixth through 11th races and begins with the $750,000 Santa Anita Derby.

- additional reporting by Jay Privman