12/27/2004 1:00AM

Mandella's roller-coaster opening day

A crowd of 31,874 turned out for opening day at Santa Anita on Sunday - the largest since 1999. On the track, Rock Hard Ten won the Grade 1 Malibu Stakes with a memorable late kick.

ARCADIA, Calif. - Trainer Richard Mandella saw the best and worst of his top 3-year-olds on Sunday's opening-day card at Santa Anita.

Action This Day, the champion 2-year-old male of 2003, left Mandella baffled after a dull ninth as the favorite in a one-mile allowance race on turf.

Conversely, Mandella can expect a top season in 2005 from Rock Hard Ten, who scored an impressive win in the Grade 1 Malibu Stakes over seven furlongs.

The diverse results left Mandella plotting the futures of the two colts on Monday.

Rock Hard Ten, who was making his first start for Mandella in the Malibu, is bound for the $300,000 Strub Stakes for 4-year-olds over 1 1/8 miles on Feb. 5. Mandella said the $200,000 San Fernando Breeders' Cup Stakes over 1 1/16 miles on Jan. 15 is too soon for Rock Hard Ten to race again.

Rock Hard Ten, previously trained by Jason Orman, won the Swaps Stakes and was second in the Preakness Stakes this year.

Ridden by Gary Stevens in the Malibu, Rock Hard Ten rallied from last through traffic in the 10-horse field to win by a half-length over Lava Man.

"It was a good ride that Gary put in," Mandella said. "Every choice was the correct one."

Mandella said that the $1 million Santa Anita Handicap on March 5 is a long-range goal for Rock Hard Ten. He has not ruled out a start in the $6 million Dubai World Cup on March 26. "We'll just have to see," he said.

Such races would seem too lofty at this time for Action This Day, who has been well beaten in five races since his upset win in the 2003 Breeders' Cup Juvenile.

On Sunday, Action This Day was making his first start since finishing sixth in the Kentucky Derby in May. His loss left Mandella unsure where to place the colt.

"He came out of the race good," he said. "I don't know what to think. We all thought if he'd see the turf, he'd love it. I think it was just a bad day, too bad to be true."

He said Action This Day is unlikely to be sent to stud in coming weeks and would be campaigned in 2005.

Mandella had two starters in the Malibu; he finished seventh with Minister Eric, who was second in the 2003 BC Juvenile.

Sent off at 8-1 in the Malibu, Minister Eric was eighth on the backstretch, but was fighting jockey Rene Douglas. Minister Eric will race without blinkers when he reappears.

"He was too strong down the back," Mandella said. "I'll take off the blinkers and get him to settle. It was too much thinking on my part. He was pulling the boy, and he has a soft palate problem. It's not a good combination."

Injured Tizbud going off to stud

Tizbud, the winner of the 2003 California Cup Classic, has been retired because of a recurring shin injury, trainer John Sadler said Monday.

Owner Michael Cooper said conversations are being held with California stud farms about where Tizbud will stand in 2005. An announcement is expected in coming days.

Tizbud finished his career with two wins in eight starts and earnings of $230,266. A half-brother to 2000 Horse of the Year Tiznow and the millionaire Budroyale, Tizbud missed nearly a year of training from November 2003 to October of this year because of the shin problem.

Sadler said the same shin has been bothering Tizbud in recent weeks. "Getting him back would have involved giving him more time off," he said.

Yearly Report passes on La Brea

Yearly Report, a five-time stakes winner, was scratched from Monday's $250,000 La Brea Stakes after trainer Bob Baffert expressed concern that the 3-year-old filly had kicked her left front ankle in recent training.

Yearly Report was the 7-5 morning-line favorite in the Grade 1 La Brea.

"I don't know if she hit it," Baffert said. "She might have hit the outside of it. I didn't like the way it looked."

Baffert said Yearly Report underwent an ultrasound test on Sunday and that the results showed no damage.

He said a similar incident occurred last May after Yearly Report won the Black-Eyed Susan Stakes at Pimlico. That race was the third of a four-race winning streak that included the Grade 2 Delaware Oaks in July.

Baffert said Yearly Report will be pointed for the $500,000 Sunshine Millions Distaff for California-breds and Florida-breds on Jan. 29.

He said Yearly Report will return to training in coming days. "Today, she looked perfect," he said Monday.

Uncle Denny to point to Sham

Uncle Denny, who won his stakes debut in the open division of the $125,000 California Breeders' Champion Stakes on Sunday, will make his first start around two turns in the $100,000 Sham Stakes over 1 1/8 miles on Feb. 5.

Trainer Rafael Becerra and owner Stan Fulton made the decision in the hours after Uncle Denny won the seven-furlong Champion Stakes by three-quarters of a length. In choosing the Sham for Uncle Denny, Becerra and Fulton will pass the $250,000 Sunshine Millions Dash at six furlongs at Gulfstream Park on Jan. 29.

"If I go back from seven furlongs to three-quarters, he could get too rank," Becerra said.

The Sham is an important prep to such major races as the $200,000 Santa Catalina Stakes on March 5 and the $750,000 Santa Anita Derby on April 9. Those races could be on Uncle Denny's schedule. "If he runs good enough in the Sham, we can see what's up," Becerra said.

Baze uninjured in spill

Jockey Tyler Baze escaped injury after being thrown from Anxiously Awaiting in

Sunday's sixth race. Anxiously Awaiting, the 5-2 favorite, was trailing the field when he fell in the final sixteenth. Baze was shaken up but walked off under his own power, clutching his chest. He took off his final three mounts, but rode on Monday.

Anxiously Awaiting suffered an apparent internal injury and died instantly, according to track stewards.

Apprentice Kaenel rides 40th winner

Kyle Kaenel, the 16-year-old son of jockey Jack Kaenel, won his first race at Santa Anita aboard All the Boys in Sunday's third race. Kyle Kaenel has been riding at Turf Paradise and Hollywood Park in recent weeks.

The victory aboard All the Boys was the 40th of Kaenel's career, which began in September. As a result, he went from a seven-pound claim to five pounds for the rest of his term as an apprentice jockey.