04/11/2003 12:00AM

Long-idle Fancy As returns to his roots in six-furlong prep


CALGARY, Alberta - Fancy As, off since running seventh in the $1 million Santa Anita Handicap on March 2, 2002, makes his much-anticipated return to Alberta in Sunday's featured optional claimer at Stampede Park.

Fancy As will be coupled with Intore in the six-furlong race, worth $20,300, and the entry will be heavily favored in the field of eight. But Fancy As is the horse the public will be backing and watching with keen interest.

Heralded as Alberta's champion 2-year-old colt in 2000 and a unanimous selection as the province's champion 3-year-old and horse of the year following his storybook campaign in 2001, Fancy As ventured to the big leagues in Southern California the following winter.

Trainer Red Smith entrusted him to the care of Bob Baffert and was on hand to watch Fancy As, a Manitoba-bred son of Dignitas, ran third in both the San Fernando and Strub prior to the Big Cap.

Smith then shipped Fancy As to Toronto for a summer campaign but brought him home following what he termed an "unsatisfactory work" at Woodbine.

It has been more than 11 months since Fancy As has raced, but the 5-year-old gelding wintered in Arizona and has trained well here, including a bullet half-mile of 45.80 seconds on March 28.

Sunday's prep will be monitored closely by Smith, who will use this race as a gauge for future engagements for Fancy As and has not ruled out a return to Woodbine.

Richard Hamel, his regular rider during the 2001 campaign, will break Fancy As from post 3.

They will have to deal with the speed of Timely Ruckus, who breaks from post 7 under Dave Wilson.

Timely Ruckus, voted Alberta's top sprinter four straight years, from 1998 through 2001, turned 10 this year and has lost a step or two but has always fired fresh at this meet.