02/11/2002 12:00AM

Move over, Bob and Wayne

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ARCADIA, Calif. - The faces are changing among the California trainers with 3-year-olds to follow in the upcoming Kentucky Derby preps.

Over the weekend, USS Tinosa (trained by Jerry Hollendorfer), and Searcher (Grant Hofmans) booked places in major stakes next month with wins at Santa Anita. Well-known trainers such as Bob Baffert and D. Wayne Lukas, who between them have accounted for five of the last seven Kentucky Derby winners, failed to win 3-year-old races at Santa Anita with promising horses.

Of course, there is plenty to accomplish before the Kentucky Derby, but Hollendorfer and Hofmans were thrilled with the performances from their colts. USS Tinosa won Friday's Sham Stakes and is bound for the El Camino Real Derby at Golden Gate Fields on March 9 or the San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita on March 17. Searcher, a maiden winner on Saturday, is being pointed for the El Camino Real Derby.

In the Sham Stakes, USS Tinosa won his first race outside of Ohio. He finished 1 1/8 miles in 1:49.11, winning by 4 1/2 lengths over the Baffert-trained Puerto Banus.

The Sham Stakes, restricted to nonwinners of a first-place purse of $50,000 at a mile or over, ended a three-racing losing streak for USS Tinosa, who is owned by Peter Abruzzo and Barry Thiriot.

"He proved that he can get the distance," Hollendorfer said. "Right now, I think that's an important consideration. I'd like to think as big as I can. I think those races would be a nice stepping stone."

Bought privately last fall, USS Tinosa was third in the Grade 3 Golden Gate Derby on Jan. 12. As a 2-year-old, he won two stakes for Ohio-breds at Thistledown and Beulah Park before being acquired by his current owners.

Searcher won a one-mile maiden race by 1 1/2 lengths on Saturday, rallying from fourth despite a wide trip from post 10. Owned by Ed and Sharon Hudon, Searcher was making his second start.

"I wasn't worried about the 10," Hofmans said. "I knew he wanted to run long."

Neither Hollendorfer or Hofmans is a stranger. Hollendorfer is well known as the dominant trainer of the northern California tracks; Hofmans is the son of David Hofmans, who trains top 3-year-old Siphonic.

Despite his optimism regarding Searcher, Grant Hofmans is not ready to take on his father's colt - at least not yet.

"I'll follow my dad's lead," Hofmans said. "I'll duck his horse until we have to run against each other."

Siphonic remains the top-ranked 3-year-old in California. On Sunday at Hollywood Park, Siphonic breezed a half-mile in 50.60 seconds. He remains on target for the San Felipe Stakes, David Hofmans said.

Baffert and Lukas had disappointing weekends. Aside from Puerto Banus, the Baffert-trained Strive could only manage only fifth behind Searcher.

Lukas started two expensive yearling purchases, but neither ran well. Shah Jehan, who cost $4.4 million in 2000, finished last of six in the Sham Stakes, his American debut. Last year, he raced in Europe with trainer Aidan O'Brien, but was only a maiden winner.

On Saturday, Distinction, a $4 million yearling purchase, was pulled up while leading the maiden race won by Searcher. Although he was vanned off, Distinction was not injured, according to Greg Falk, a Lukas assistant.

Jockey Chris McCarron said he felt something amiss on the backstretch.

"I felt his stride change abruptly," McCarron said. "He did feel bad to me. When I took the saddle off, he looked okay. Hopefully, he's okay."

Futural may get Big Cap shot

Futural, the winner of two graded stakes last year, is being pointed for the $1 million Santa Anita Handicap on March 2 following a third-place finish in an allowance race on Saturday.

The allowance race was Futural's first start since he finished sixth in the Pacific Classic last August. On Saturday, Futural was beaten 5 1/2 lengths by race winner Reba's Gold.

"This is a good tightener," trainer Craig Dollase said. "If he comes out of it well, we may consider the Big Cap. I figure he was 75 percent and needed the race."

The first two finishers of Saturday's allowance race are not Big Cap contenders, according to their trainers.

Reba's Gold ran a mile in 1:35.39, winning by a nose over an unlucky Sky Jack, who was making his first start in 14 months following a bout with colic and knee surgery.

Sky Jack's trainer, Doug O'Neill, said the Big Cap may be too much too soon for his 6-year-old gelding.

"The Big Cap is so tempting, but I think it would be the wrong thing to do," O'Neill said. "To me, as good as he ran off 14 months' rest, it would set him up for a bounce and take a chance of messing with his soundness."

Reba's Gold, who has never won a stakes, may try the minor Tokyo City Handicap on March 9, a race that Futural won last year.

A 5-year-old, Reba's Gold is owned by television personality Alex Trebek.

"We've been trying to get him inn tougher races," Trabek said.

Trainer Dan Hendricks said Reba's Gold may be better at a mile than 1 1/4 miles.

"He's not a horse you can run every week," Hendricks said. "I don't think mile and a quarter would suit him. "We tried the grass, but I think he's better on dirt."

Aside from Futural, the Big Cap is expected to draw Cagney, Euchre, Fancy As, Freedom Crest, and Mizzen Mast. Irisheyesareflying, who was third in the San Antonio Handicap on Feb. 3, is being considered for the New Orleans Handicap on March 3.

Big stakes weekend

There is racing through Monday this week at Santa Anita and five stakes between Saturday and Monday. The most prestigious of those is Sunday's $200,000 Santa Maria Handicap for fillies and mares over 1 1/16 miles. Spain is the likely highweight against Leading Light, Printemps, Queenie Belle, and The Seven Seas.

Saturday's $200,000 San Luis Obispo Handicap over 1 1/2 miles can sort out a marathon turf division without a leaders. Bienamado dominated the group last year, but has been retired to stud.

Denon, the winner of the Hollywood Derby on Nov. 25, faces Continental Red, who was second in the San Marcos Stakes on Jan. 21. Other probables include Apache Wings, Bonapartiste, Hataab and Ringaskiddy.

The weekend's other big races are Saturday's $100,000 Boo la Boo Stakes, a sprint for 3-year-old California-bred fillies; Sunday's $75,000 San Marino Handicap, a restricted turf race over 1 1/4 miles; and Monday's $150,000 Buena Vista Handicap for fillies and mares over a mile on turf.