03/28/2003 12:00AM

More will be merrier in SA Derby

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ARCADIA, Calif. - Buddy Gil and Atswhatimtalknbout ran impressive races when finishing first and second in the San Felipe Stakes on March 16, but they will have no shortage of challengers when they reappear in the $750,000 Santa Anita Derby on Saturday.

As of Friday, a field of eight or nine was expected for the Santa Anita Derby, which is run over 1 1/8 miles.

The Santa Anita Derby is the richest Triple Crown prep in California and a vital race for West Coast horses preparing for the Kentucky Derby.

Atswhatimtalknbout is the expected favorite. Trained by Ron Ellis, he was beaten by a nose in the 1 1/16-mile San Felipe Stakes, his stakes debut, after making an eye-catching move through the stretch.

Buddy Gil will also be well supported. Trained by Jeff Mullins, Buddy Gil overcame trouble in early stretch and a sound bump at the eighth pole to win the San Felipe, his first major stakes.

Those two will face a supporting cast that includes three horses trained by Bob Baffert and four other starters.

Baffert has won four of the last seven runnings of the Santa Anita Derby. His team this year is Domestic Dispute, Indian Express, and Kafwain.

Other probables include Ocean Terrace and Ministers Wild Cat, the first two finishers in the El Camino Real Derby at Golden Gate Fields on March 9, and longshots Iron Lad and Logician, who are not confirmed starters.

Kafwain won the seven-furlong San Vicente Stakes in his 3-year-old debut in February.

On Friday, Kafwain was disqualified from a runner-up finish in the March 9 Louisiana Derby after testing positive for an excessive amount of clenbuterol, a medication used to aid horses in breathing.

Baffert said that Kafwain "will need to improve" to win the Santa Anita Derby and that the distance of the race will be an important test for all the starters.

"When you go a mile and an eighth, that is when you start stretching them out and the true distance horses start to separate themselves," Baffert said.

Domestic Dispute was favored in the San Felipe, but finished fifth, losing by three lengths. Baffert remains perplexed by that performance. "I've got to toss that race out," Baffert said.

Earlier this year, Domestic Dispute won the Santa Catalina Stakes over 1 1/16 miles by three lengths.

On Friday at Hollywood Park, Ministers Wild Cat worked seven furlongs in 1:27.20. Trainer Neil Drysdale described the workout as "very smooth. He's improved considerably since his last race."

On Friday, Atswhatimtalknbout galloped 1 1/4 miles. He will have a workout on Monday under jockey David Flores. Retired Hall of Fame jockey Chris McCarron has been aboard Atswhatimtalknbout in two recent workouts.

Sorenson out indefinitely

Jockey Danny Sorenson will be sidelined indefinitely after suffering a fracture of the C3 vertebrae in a one-horse spill at Santa Anita on Thursday.

Riding Kiffisos in an optional claimer on turf, Sorenson was thrown hard when his mount broke down in the final furlong while trailing the field. Kiffisos, stakes placed in France in 2001, was euthanized.

Sorenson had X-rays taken at Arcadia Methodist Hospital but was released Thursday evening. Wearing a neck brace, he was a visitor during workouts at Santa Anita on Friday. He complained of lower back pain and said he intended to visit doctors for further diagnosis.

"I feel like I got hit by a Mack truck," he said. "I hit so hard that I was knocked out. I've never been knocked out before."

Sorenson's injuries are the latest from a series of spills at Santa Anita. Earlier this month, Hall of Fame jockeys Laffit Pincay Jr. and Julie Krone were injured in separate accidents and face lengthy spells on the sidelines.

There is a chance that Pincay, the winningest rider in the world, may not return. He has two bone fractures in his neck from a spill on March 1. He has not announced his intentions.

Sorenson and Kiffisos's accident overshadowed an impressive victory by Golden Dragon, who rallied from last to score by two lengths. Ridden by Victor Espinoza, Golden Dragon ($16) ran a mile on turf in 1:33.63.

Owned by Cobra Farm and trained by Mike Puype, Golden Dragon was winning for the first time in six starts in this country.

Redattore back home

Redattore, who was scratched from the Explosive Bid Handicap at Fair Grounds last weekend, has returned to California.

Redattore, who won the Frank Kilroe Mile at Santa Anita on March 1, spiked a fever after he arrived in New Orleans and was under observation through the middle of the week. Trainer Richard Mandella said Redattore has not shown signs of illness since arriving in California.

"So far, his temperature is good," Mandella said. "In the last three days, his blood improved."

Last summer, Redattore was taken out of training after suffering a more severe illness when he was shipped to Emerald Downs in Washington for the Longacres Mile.

Mandella said Redattore will be pointed for the Shoemaker Breeders' Cup Mile at Hollywood Park on May 26.

Illinois Derby next for 'Most Wanted'

Ten Most Wanted, third in the Grade 3 El Camino Real Derby at Golden Gate Fields on March 8, will make his next start in the $500,000 Illinois Derby at Hawthorne on Saturday.

Ten Most Wanted was shipped from Hollywood Park to Hawthorne in Chicago on Friday. Trained by Wally Dollase, he will be ridden by Pat Day in the Illinois Derby.

"Everything is on go," Dollase said.

Restaurant workers arrested

Two employees of the Frontrunner restaurant at Santa Anita were arrested earlier this week on charges of possession of a controlled substance, according to a spokesperson with the Arcadia Police Department. Police officials said the substance was cocaine.

The employees arrested were Abel Duran, 30, and Ronald Jarosch, 34. They were scheduled to be arraigned in court on Friday.

Eight other employees were questioned and have been suspended from Santa Anita, a source said. The investigation was launched by the Santa Anita security department, Arcadia Police Dept. officials said.

"It's not a usual call," said Lt. Bob Anderson of the Arcadia Police Dept. "Usually we deal with intoxication, fights, or trespassing."

* Tony Farina, the jockey who was suspended for seven days for causing interference in the spill that sidelined Pincay, has relocated to Keeneland where he will ride primarily for trainer Patrick Biancone.