01/08/2007 12:00AM

McCarthy comes home to get first win

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ARCADIA, Calif. - For the time being, Michael McCarthy is just minding the store for his boss, trainer Todd Pletcher, who is under suspension through the beginning of February. But there was no hiding McCarthy's joy and relief when he won his first race as a trainer on Sunday at Santa Anita, when the highly regarded 3-year-old filly Rags to Riches rolled to a six-length victory against maidens.

"The suicide watch is over," joked McCarthy, who was winless in three starts at Santa Anita prior to Sunday's second race. He just missed winning another race Sunday when Blues Street came up a nose short in the sixth race.

There are high hopes for Rags to Riches. A daughter of A.P. Indy, she is a half-sister to Belmont Stakes winner Jazil. She was purchased by owners Derrick Smith and Michael Tabor as a yearling for $1.9 million. She ran once last year, in June at Churchill Downs, and finished fourth after breaking poorly, then was off until Sunday.

"I expected her to run decent," McCarthy said. "This was a pleasant surprise. We hadn't done a whole lot with her."

McCarthy, 35, grew up just a few furlongs from Santa Anita and worked locally, for trainers such as Ben Cecil, until moving East to join Pletcher's team four years ago. He returned for this winter with a West Coast string for Pletcher. After his win on Sunday, a number of people who remember him from his days at Santa Anita congratulated him, but by his nickname, "Whitey."

"It's a name they gave me when I was a kid, I guess because I was so pale," McCarthy said.

In fact, most people who knew him at Santa Anita only knew him by his nickname. After Sunday's victory, former jockey agent Bill Barisoff pointed at a reporter's program and said, "Michael McCarthy. Is that his real name?"

"He grew up with my kids, and I never knew his name," Barisoff said. "They just called him Whitey."

McCarthy is training 16 horses at Hollywood Park. Like Seth Benzel in New York and Anthony Sciametta in Florida, McCarthy will revert to assistant when Pletcher's suspension expires. In the meantime, he has in his care such well-regarded horses as Circular Quay, the Hopeful Stakes winner who was second in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, and Friendly Island, the Breeders' Cup Sprint runner-up.

Circular Quay worked five furlongs in 1:00.60 on Sunday on Hollywood Park's Cushion Track surface. He is expected to make his first start of the year in the Risen Star Stakes on Feb. 10 at Fair Grounds, Pletcher recently said.

Friendly Island worked five furlongs in 1:02.20 on Sunday at Hollywood.

McCarthy said Friendly Island may run in the Grade 2, $150,000 Palos Verdes Handicap at six furlongs here on Jan. 20, "or go to Florida."

For Declan's Moon, it's all mental

Declan's Moon has not won a race in nearly two years, and has finished last in two of his last three starts. But trainer Ron Ellis insists that the male 2-year-old champion of 2004 is still a viable runner.

"There's nothing physically wrong with him," Ellis said after Declan's Moon finished last in the San Pasqual Handicap on Saturday. "He's lacking confidence. I've got to find a way to get it back. I have to go from being a trainer to a horse psychologist."

Ellis likened Declan's Moon's plight to that of former Dodger second baseman Steve Sax, who at the end of his career had a mental block when it came toward making accurate throws to first base.

"He could do it," Ellis said. "Steve Sax could throw a ball to first base. He just couldn't do it mentally. It was all in his head. It affects athletes, and does horses, too."

Ellis said he experienced a similar situation last year with Buzzards Bay, the Santa Anita Derby winner who tailed off before finding a field he could beat in northern California.

"He got his confidence back, and then he won the Oaklawn Handicap," Ellis said.

"He's got so much ability, it's ridiculous," Ellis said of Declan's Moon. "At least we know this - he's still a champion."

Headley horses moved

Trainer Gus Headley has been ordered by Richard Shapiro, the chairman of the California Horse Racing Board, to remove his horses from the barn of his father, Bruce Headley. The order comes in the aftermath of the controversial claim by Gus Headley of the maiden claimer Tactics from his father on Dec. 28.

"I'm not sure that any rule was broken per se," Shapiro said, "but the appearance was so odd. It was kind of like, 'Huh?' I'm not out claiming horses off of my brother. It just didn't look right. And then Gus goes and saddles his dad's horse in the next race.

"I realize Bruce has trouble lifting his arms and saddling horses, but this just didn't look right. You have to take care of the fans. This just didn't look good. I said to Bruce, 'Let's separate you and Gus,' and he agreed."

The Headleys have maintained that there was no collusion between the two on the claim of Tactics for $80,000 out of his debut. There were no other claims in for the horse. Since the incident, Bruce Headley's daughter, Karen, has helped saddle her father's runners and is listed as his assistant in the track program.

Racing board investigators based at Santa Anita are investigating the incident and are expected to file a report with the track's stewards this week, according to steward Scott Chaney.

Cervelo has turned it around

What's gotten into Cervelo? After a pair of disappointing races last summer at Del Mar following his relocation from Florida, Cervelo has made marked improvement for trainer Mike Puype. He scored a 17-1 upset at Hollywood Park on Nov. 29, then won his second straight money allowance race on Saturday.

"At Del Mar he was hot and washy," Puype said. "Now he's holding it together and packing his punch in his races. He's just more settled down."

Puype also trains Squallacious, who was second in the La Brea Stakes the first week of the meet. Rather than bring her back quickly in the Grade 2, $150,000 El Encino Stakes at 1 1/16 miles on Saturday, Puype said he will keep Squallacious around one turn and point for the Grade 1, $250,000 Santa Monica Handicap at seven furlongs on Jan. 28.

"I didn't like the alignment for the El Encino," he said. "I didn't want to jam her back two weeks after her comeback race."

Also pointing for the Santa Monica is Pussycat Doll, who sizzled six furlongs from the gate in 1:10 on Sunday morning at Santa Anita for trainer Bob Baffert. Her time was the fastest of 19 at the distance.