01/23/2003 1:00AM

If Giovannetti gets loose, he's gone


ARCADIA, Calif. - The best sprinters do not all end up on the West Coast. It only seems that way. All 11 entrants in Saturday's $250,000 Sunshine Millions Sprint, the fourth race at Santa Anita, are based in Southern California, including the only two Florida-breds in the lineup - Captain Squire and F J's Pace.

While the Sprint lacks the interstate rivalry Sunshine Millions organizers hoped for, there is no denying its quality. The nine California-breds in the six-furlong race include graded stakes winners Debonair Joe and Men's Exclusive; Group 1-placed Echo Eddie; and stakes winner Joey Franco. Disturbingthepeace, the top sprinter in California last summer, is expected to scratch from the Sprint and run Sunday in the Grade 2 Palos Verdes Handicap, a $150,000 race for which five of the 11 Sprint entrants also were nominated.

The initial handicapping dilemma in the Sprint is determining whether pacesetter Giovannetti and jockey Kent Desormeaux will race gate to wire. Claimed for $20,000 in September, the 4-year-old Giovannetti has won four straight while steadily climbing the ladder. "Since we've had him," said trainer Frank Monteleone, "he's never been passed."

Giovannetti's strategy is direct. "When they open it, he's going," Monteleone said, adding, "they can go with him if they want." Giovannetti is owned by Bernie Schiappa and has won 6 of 8 while setting or pressing the pace every time. To win the Sprint, Giovannetti must shake loose from Echo Eddie and potential upsetter Captain Squire.

Echo Eddie surged to international prominence last March when he shipped to Dubai and finished second by a head in the Group 1, $2 million Golden Shaheen. A 6-year-old by Restless Con, Echo Eddie has won 1 of 4 since then, overcoming trouble to win a five-horse stakes race in his Dec. 22 comeback at Hollywood Park.

"I don't think that race tells us anything," trainer Darrell Vienna admitted.

All it established was that Echo Eddie had not lost his desire. The win was his ninth from 20 starts, but produced an ordinary Beyer Speed Figure of 99, compared to the 104 earned last out by Giovannetti. Echo Eddie is owned by David and Rita Milch, and will be ridden by David Flores.

Of the Florida-breds, Captain Squire has the best chance. A 4-year-old by Flying Chevron, Captain Squire has been working sensationally for his first start since August and benefits from one of the hottest trainers in Southern California. Jeff Mullins has won or placed with 12 of his first 19 starters at the winter meet. Captain Squire possesses enough tactical speed to race within close striking distance, and he earned triple-digit Beyers his last three starts as a 3-year-old. The pace and speed figures he earned winning a Grade 2 stakes last May at Hollywood Park put him squarely in the hunt.