02/20/2004 12:00AM

Island Fashion should stay home

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PHOENIX - Nobody asked me but . . .

* Island Fashion scratched out of the Grade 1 Santa Maria because owner Jeffrey Nielsen wants to see her in a "more exciting spot." Well, she is his horse and it has worked before. He scratched out of the Grade 2 El Encino to go in - and win - the Grade 1 Santa Monica. Of course, last fall he scratched out of the Grade 2 Cotillion to go in the Grade 1 Beldame, but that time finished sixth behind Sightseek, Bird Town and others. For now, Nielsen is pointing Island Fashion for the Grade 1 Santa Margarita at Santa Anita, then the Grade 2 Godolphin Mile in Dubai.

But hold your horses. Sure, the $1 million Godolphin Mile pot is something to shoot for, and while Island Fashion may be the hottest female horse in the country, it makes no sense to ship halfway around the world to face top-flight males. What if it knocks her out for half a year? What if she does not come back as good as she goes?

I could understand it if there were a $1 million Dubai Distaff, but there isn't. Hopefully, Nielson will stick to this plan: the Santa Margarita, then the Grade 1, $500,000 Apple Blossom at Oaklawn April 3. Dubai? Don't do it.

* Read the Footnotes's dazzling Fountain of Youth win (113 Beyer) deserves much credit. A poll on DRF.com shows that 74 percent of respondents think more highly of that effort than Gradepoint's win in the Risen Star (96 Beyer). However, I prefer Gradepoint's progression, specifically as it relates to how he'll do in the Triple Crown. His Beyer pattern of 73-70-87-96 is much more in line with the maturity rate of a Derby winner. Read the Footnotes was nothing short of brilliant, but you don't get the roses for what you do in February or March. Those months are used to establish a base, get a foothold, then vault forward into May. Consider Triple Crown disappointments Harlan's Holiday, Pulpit, Lil's Lad, Unbridled Song, Afternoon Deelites, High Yield, More Than Ready, and Holy Bull, to name a few. Their dominance a couple months before the Derby meant little when the big day finally arrived.

Remember, too, many handicappers were unimpressed by Gradepoint's sire, A. P. Indy, after his Santa Anita Derby earned a paltry 95 Beyer. He had to miss the Derby, but his Peter Pan and Belmont wins showed he had the quality to win the Derby.

* The Santa Anita Handicap on March 6 looks like an opportunity either for Pleasantly Perfect to entrench himself as the best older horse in the country along with Medaglia d'Oro, or for Southern Image to prove he at least belongs with those two horses.

Still, I might bet Saint Buddy, who had one of the worst trips I've ever seen in the Grade 2 Strub Stakes a few weeks ago. Saint Buddy was making what appeared to be a winning move on the rail as the field turned for home. He was stopped, not just there but also was basically bottled up the length of the stretch. If he had gotten free at any point he might well have won, or at least been in the photo with Domestic Dispute and During. Considering that Pleasantly Perfect figures to be about 7-5 in the Santa Anita Handicap, Southern Image about 5-2, and Olmodavor around 9-2, Saint Buddy figures to be in the 12-1 range - very appealing, for my money.

* Redattore is apparently out with an ankle problem. The Tin Man is still licking his wounds, Storming Home has gone off to breed, and Johar has just had his first two works back after a disastrous trip to the Japan Cup. What it means is the turf division in the West is completely up for grabs. Last Monday's Grade 2 San Luis Obispo spotlighted a good group of turf distance horses, but there really isn't a star in the lot. In fact, the entire field of 12 horses finished within five lengths of one another. Odds are there is a European transplant nibbling away in the barn of Neil Drysdale or Bobby Frankel just waiting to explode onto the scene, as Storming Home did last year. The division lead is ripe for the plucking.

* Considering the Grade 1 Santa Anita Oaks Mar. 13 is likely to lure unbeaten champ Halfbridled and unbeaten up-and-comer A. P. Adventure, I'll be curious to see what Frankel and fellow trainer Bob Baffert do with their respective 3-year-old filly stars.

Baffert said he is aiming Yearly Report for that race, though she missed last week's Grade 1 Las Virgenes because of a cough. She's shown brilliance, however, and is bred to prefer more ground.

Frankel shipped Miss Coronado to Gulfstream a couple weeks ago for her first try against winners and first try on dirt in the Grade 2 Davona Dale, and she won, so he obviously has a high-quality filly on his hands.

Baffert and Frankel know what they would be going up against in the Santa Anita Oaks, so if they still show up with their fillies, you know these runners are doing well.

But there is always the Grade 2 Fair Grounds Oaks Mar. 6 or the Grade 2 Bonnie Miss at Gulfstream Mar. 6 as options for them.