04/14/2003 11:00PM

Kafwain regains his health

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ARCADIA, Calif. - Kafwain has finally recovered from an illness that prevented him from training for 10 days after the Santa Anita Derby, and the colt went back to the track Tuesday for the first time since his third-place finish.

"He got sick on me; he had a low-grade deal going on," trainer Bob Baffert said. "He and Atlantic Ocean both got sick."

Baffert shipped Indian Express, Santa Catarina, and Domestic Dispute to Kentucky on Tuesday, but delayed Kafwain's departure. "I wanted to make sure he was okay, so I will give him a couple more days."

Kafwain and Atlantic Ocean are expected to leave Thursday.

Although Baffert is not using Kafwain's illness as an excuse for the Santa Anita Derby, the trainer said Kafwain was really quiet when he saddled him for the race, and suspects the illness could have been brewing when Kafwain finished third. The Santa Anita Derby was the 11th career start for Kafwain, one reason Baffert is not overly concerned about the missed training. "He's got a good bottom on him, so it doesn't matter," Baffert said. "He runs hard every time."

Kafwain and Indian Express will start for Baffert in the Derby; Domestic Dispute goes Saturday in the Lexington; Atlantic Ocean and Santa Catarina run in the Kentucky Oaks. Baffert said Santa Catarina bled in her March 12 comeback win, which is why he skipped a final prep for the filly and instead will train her up to the Oaks. "She worked awesome the other day," Baffert said. Santa Catarina worked a mile April 6 in 1:38.80.

Champion Lodge tops turf marathon

Champion Lodge will be the 117-pound highweight Sunday in the San Juan Capistrano Handicap, the longest Grade 1 in North America at 1 3/4 miles on turf. Trained by Sandy Shulman, Champion Lodge has won two of his three starts since being imported last fall from England, including a six-length romp in the Grade 2 San Luis Rey run over yielding turf. Alex Solis rides Champion Lodge, the certain favorite. How short his odds go will depend partly on whether second highweight Nazirali (116) runs.

Nazirali won his comeback April 2, but trainer Julio Canani is noncommittal about the gelding's participation in the San Juan. "I don't know yet if he's running, it's 18 days," Canani said, referring to the relatively quick turnaround. "He is a mile and three-quarter horse," the trainer said.

Nazirali has won 4 of 10, including the Grade 2 San Luis Obispo last winter. Nazirali's campaign ended last fall when he was found to have been suffering from a throat ulcer. "He couldn't breathe," Canani said.

The San Juan field is also expected to include Adminniestrator (115), Requete (113), Special Matter (113), Timber Cruiser (111), and Passinetti (110).

Cassidy's luck finally changes

Until he scored back-to-back stakes wins last weekend, the Santa Anita winter meet had been a long, strange trip for trainer Jim Cassidy. "When you have 54 starts and only two wins, it's like you're shooting yourself in the head," he said. "It's frustrating, but when the horses are running good, there's not a whole lot you can do."

Cassidy had 13 runner-up finishes before breaking through Saturday with a La Puente Stakes win by the colt Steelaninch, followed Sunday with the Providencia win by the filly Star Vega.

Cassidy purchased nine horses last fall in England for owners Jim Ford and Deron Pearson, and while Steelaninch and Star Vega have emerged as stars, Cassidy said the filly Little Malvern has shown potential and is pointing for the Grade 3 Senorita Stakes on May 17 at Hollywood Park. Steelaninch will aim for the Grade 3 Will Rogers Handicap on May 25, while Star Vega could get a short rest before pointing for the $750,000 American Oaks on July 5.

"I would like to give her some time, it's not like she's a big, strong thing," he said.

Katdogawn, who finished last in the Providencia, will shorten to one turn for her next start. Iron Lad, who finished eighth in the Santa Anita Derby, will return to turf for the $75,000 Harry Henson Stakes on April 23. "If he doesn't run well there, he will have surgery," Cassidy said, meaning the colt may soon be a gelding.

Lopez relocates to California

East Coast rider C.C. Lopez was on a plane Tuesday afternoon en route to California, where he hopes to make an impact in a jockey colony diminished by retirement and injury. Lopez, 42, will be represented by agent Ray Kravagna and will start riding at Santa Anita immediately. He was named on first-time starter Baja Dancer in race 4 on Thursday.

It will be only his second mount ever in California. Lopez said he hopes to make California his permanent home. "With all the retirements and injuries, it seemed like a good time to try," Lopez said Tuesday from his home in New Jersey. "Now is the time to come."

Known primary as a speed rider in the East, Lopez's style may fit well on a circuit that typically rewards speed. "I would prefer to be on the lead if possible, but that's doesn't mean I will be sending a horse off his feet if that's not his style. One of my best qualities is to leave the gate well without using them. Consequently, I always have horse when I am confronted in the lane."

Lopez originally contacted Brian Beach, agent for Julie Krone, to represent him in California. When Krone was injured, however, Beach decided to take a hiatus. Retired jockey Chris McCarron, now the Santa Anita general manager, put Lopez in touch with Kravagna, who has not had a jockey since Eddie Delahoussaye was injured last summer at Del Mar. Lopez admits he had second thoughts after he and Kravagna originally spoke. Then the weather turned again.

"We got eight inches of snow, I was out shoveling it, and said to myself 'What the hell am I doing?' " Lopez said.