02/18/2004 1:00AM

Jump-up time for 3-year-olds


ARCADIA, Calif. - The middle of February would be a good time, trainer Bob Baffert said, for "these horses to start doing something." That is, if it is not already too late.

Baffert trains two of the seven colts and geldings in Friday's sixth race at Santa Anita, a first-condition allowance for 3-year-olds. The 1 1/16-mile race could be a prep for a bigger prep. It is Derby season, after all, and Rafael Becerra expressed the sentiments of many with a promising 3-year-old. The trainer of Dream Place, he said, "If he wins this one, the next race will be a jump up."

holds a current-condition edge over Baffert's well-regarded comebacker Coldntight, but Dream Place also is switching surface after two good races on turf. "I want to find out what kind of dirt horse I have," Becerra said. Dream Place has won 1 of 3 and enters on an upward, once-a-month pattern.

has always been highly regarded by Baffert, and a seven-length Del Mar maiden win over Action This Day validated the trainer's confidence. But when Coldntight raced in the Grade 2 Norfolk, tender shins contributed to his eighth-place finish. The colt, by Touch Gold, is racing Friday for the first time since the Oct. 3 Norfolk. If he is a Derby colt, he will show it first start back. "I've been training him hard," Baffert said. Coldntight has won 1 of 4.

Baffert also starts Courageous Act, whose second-place finish Jan. 31 in a seven-furlong allowance was better than it looked.

"He blew a shoe coming out of the gate, and came back and worked great," Baffert said. Courageous Act has won 1 of 6 but has never crossed the wire first. His only win was by disqualification.

The field includes Gem of a Day, Cheiron, Trois Villes, and That's an Outrage. Gem of a Day won a fast California-bred maiden race Jan. 16, then scratched from a Jan. 23 allowance, but shows three good works since. Cheiron earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 102 in a restricted sprint stakes last time, but the field was bunched at the wire, and Cheiron is best as a late-running sprinter. That's an Outrage shows one workout since bleeding and finishing seventh in the Grade 2 Santa Catalina. Trois Villes switches to dirt.

* In race 7 on Friday, Epicentre runs for the first time since he was disqualified from victory in the Grade 1 Hollywood Turf Cup. He races nine furlongs on grass against Denied and 2002 San Juan Capistrano winner Ringaskiddy.