01/10/2003 12:00AM

Mayakovsky silences his skeptics

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ARCADIA, Calif. - For the last 18 months, there has been as much as hype as substance surrounding the career of Mayakovsky.

His smashing debut win at Saratoga in July of 2001 was followed by only one more start that year, a second in the Hopeful Stakes. In four starts last year, Mayakovsky managed only one victory - the Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct in March.

So, it was understandable that skeptics questioned Mayakovsky's ability when he made his turf debut in a one-mile allowance race at Santa Anita on Thursday. But after Mayakovsky won by a length in the respectable time of 1:34.01, trainer Patrick Biancone turned his attention to the upcoming Sunshine Millions for California-breds and Florida-breds.

"He's been a bit unlucky and not able to put three races together," Biancone said. "Fortunately, he's sound and things can go his way. He's just an unbelievable horse. I was thrilled with him."

Biancone plans to start Mayakovsky in the $1 million Sunshine Millions Classic at 1 1/8 miles over Gulfstream Park's main track on Jan. 25. Owned by Michael Tabor, Mayakovsky will be one of the Florida-bred representatives in his stakes debut against older horses.

A win would help establish a measure of consistency in Mayakovsky's brief career, which consists of three wins from seven starts.

Thursday's win came after Mayakovsky finished a dull ninth in the Malibu Stakes at seven furlongs on Dec. 26. That was his first start since finishing fourth in the Amsterdam Stakes at Saratoga last August and first start in California since a fourth-place finish in the Santa Anita Derby last April.

The race came along at the perfect time - for the colt and his trainer.

"When you're a trainer, you look for a confidence-builder," Biancone said. "I wasn't lacking any confidence in him, but you don't want to go to a big race after a poor race."

Ridden by Tony Farina on Thursday, Mayakovsky led throughout, winning by a length over Alyzig, who finished second in the Carleton Burke Handicap last October.

On Friday, Biancone said that Mayakovsky would be nominated for the $500,000 Sunshine Millions Turf at Santa Anita on Jan. 25, the top grass stakes in the new eight-race event. But Biancone has his mind on the Classic at Gulfstream Park, even though Mayakovsky is unproven at 1 1/8 miles.

"If he doesn't stay, he doesn't stay," Biancone said. "The distance is a big concern. At this stage, he will go to Florida. Why run for half a million when you can run for $1 million?

"I'm lucky to have an owner who is a sportsman-gambler. We'll take a shot."

Whywhywhy works half-mile

Biancone is also planning a February assault on Gulfstream Park.

He has earmarked the Fountain of Youth Stakes on Feb. 15 for the 3-year-old debut of Whywhywhy, the winner of three stakes last year, including the Grade 1 Futurity Stakes at Belmont Park on Sept. 15.

Unraced since finishing 10th in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile at Arlington Park on Oct. 26, Whywhywhy worked a half-mile in 49.60 seconds on Friday.

"He went a half-mile and he went very easy," Biancone said.

Zavata, the winner of the Saratoga Special, is "a month behind Whywhywhy," according to Biancone, and is being pointed for the San Pedro Stakes at 6 1/2 furlongs on March 22.

Unbeaten Scrimshaw to Santa Catalina

Domestic Dispute, who was second in the Hollywood Futurity on Dec. 21, and Scrimshaw, who is unbeaten in two starts, are top contenders for the $150,000 Santa Catalina Stakes for 3-year-olds at 1 1/16 miles next Saturday.

The Grade 2 Santa Catalina Stakes is the first major stakes of the meet for 3-year-olds are pointing to the $750,000 Santa Anita Derby on April 5.

Bob Baffert trains Domestic Dispute. As of Friday, Baffert had only one projected starter in the Santa Catalina. He said that Truckle Feature, who finished third in the Breeders' Futurity last October, will be pointed for the $150,000 San Vicente Stakes at seven furlongs on Feb. 1.

Domestic Dispute and Scrimshaw will be part of a field expected that includes Hell Cat, Our Bobby V., Robledo, and Storm Gulch.

Biancone trains Storm Gulch for Tabor. The colt was acquired privately in early November, following a victory in a six-furlong maiden race at Keeneland in October.

Mandella's leading males work in company

Cagney and Pleasantly Perfect, two of trainer Richard Mandella's hopes for major stakes races later this year, worked seven furlongs together on Friday morning.

Pleasantly Perfect, unraced since winning the Goodwood Breeders' Cup Handicap last October, was timed in 1:25.60, .20 faster than Cagney. Cagney finished last of 10 in the Grade 1 Charles Whittingham Handicap last June.

Pleasantly Perfect is expected to start in the $250,000 San Antonio Handicap at 1 1/8 miles on Feb. 2.

The San Antonio is an important prep for the $1 million Santa Anita Handicap on March 1. Mandella will also start Kudos, who finished second in the San Pasqual Handicap at Santa Anita on Jan. 4.

Pleasantly Perfect missed the Breeders' Cup Classic at Arlington Park in late October after bleeding in the Goodwood and ruled in violation of bleeder rules in Illinois, which are stricter than regulations in California.

After Mandella learned that Pleasantly Perfect couldn't start in the Breeders' Cup Classic, he gave the colt a 30-day break.

Mandella was less certain when Cagney will reappear. The 6-year-old Cagney won the 2001 Carleton Burke Handicap and finished 12th in the Japan Cup.