03/10/2003 1:00AM

Movie producers catch Derby fever

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ARCADIA, Calif. - A minor share of the 3-year-old Atswhatimtalknbout, who will make his stakes debut in Sunday's $250,000 San Felipe Stakes, has been sold to a group of Hollywood movie producers that includes Gary Ross, the writer and director of the upcoming movie "Seabiscuit," and director Steven Spielberg.

Horse owner B. Wayne Hughes, who purchased Atswhatimtalknbout for $900,000 at a 2-year-olds in-training sale, will retain a majority share in the colt, one of the West Coast's leading contenders for the Kentucky Derby.

Aside from Ross and Spielberg, the members of the minority partnership are Frank Marshall and Kathleen Kennedy, the producers of "Seabiscuit," and Allison Thomas, Ross's wife, who is an executive producer of "Seabiscuit." They will reportedly hold a 10 percent share as a group.

"I think it's good for racing, it will be good for Santa Anita, and good for the movie," Hughes said.

Hall of Fame jockey Chris McCarron, who will become Santa Anita's general manager as of March 31, approached Hughes in late February about selling a portion of the colt to the Hollywood executives.

McCarron worked as a consultant on "Seabiscuit." Last spring, he hosted Kennedy, Marshall, Ross, and Thomas at the Kentucky Derby.

"They had quite a blast last year," McCarron said. "I took them on a tour of the farms the next day."

The Hollywood partners will have their first racing experience as owners on Sunday when Atswhatimtalknbout starts as a leading candidate in the San Felipe Stakes, a key prep to the $750,000 Santa Anita Derby on April 5.

On Sunday, Atswhatimtalknbout worked six furlongs in 1:13 under McCarron, who had had asked trainer Ron Ellis for a chance to work the colt so he could better inform the minority partnership of the colt's potential.

McCarron said he was impressed with the workout.

"I wanted to see if his stride is as good as it looks - it is," McCarron said. "I haven't lost it. He wanted me to go in 13, and I got him in 13. He towed me around."

Atswhatimtalknbout has won 2 of 3 starts. The wins came in a six-furlong maiden race on Jan. 4 and an allowance race over 1 1/16 miles on Feb. 20.

Trainer Ron Ellis said Sunday's San Felipe is an opportunity to give the colt more experience. "He's improving and getting stronger, but this is not an important race for him in my mind if we continue to the Kentucky Derby," Ellis said. "I need him to peak on Derby Day and not San Felipe day."

The San Felipe Stakes will have a large field, led by Domestic Dispute, the winner of the Santa Catalina Stakes on Jan. 20. Other probables include Brancusi, Buckland Manor, Buddy Gil, Flirt with Fortune, Man Among Men, Siberland, and Ten Cents a Shine.

Trainer D. Wayne Lukas said on Sunday that Ten Cents a Shine, who was sixth in the Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream Park last month, was not a definite starter.

Atswhatimtalknbout will be ridden by David Flores, who also rode Domestic Dispute in the Santa Catalina.

Monday, Domestic Dispute worked five furlongs in 58.40, according to trainer Bob Baffert. "He's ready," Baffert said.

Santa Catarina returns in allowance

Baffert has important 3-year-olds running in two allowance races on Wednesday's program.

In the second race, a $56,000 optional claimer for fillies at a mile, Santa Catarina, who placed in three Grade 1 races last year, makes her first start of the year.

In the fourth race, a $56,000 open optional claimer at a mile, During will be favored against five others.

Santa Catarina races for Bob and Beverly Lewis. Santa Catarina finished second in the Del Mar Debutante and Frizette Stakes last year before finishing a well-beaten third behind Storm Flag Flying and Composure in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies.

On Wednesday, Santa Catarina is part of an entry with Beautiful Treasure, who was second in the Astoria Stakes for trainer D. Wayne Lukas at Belmont Park last July. They will be favored against five others, including Chief Little Dan, who was second in the Blue Norther Handicap on turf on Jan. 8.

Baffert considers Wednesday's optional claimer to be the first race in an attempt to get Santa Catarina ready for the Kentucky Oaks. "She's been working really well," he said.

During is in a must-win situation in order to be a factor on the Triple Crown trail, Baffert said. Owned by Jim McIngvale, During won a maiden race over 6 1/2 furlongs on Feb. 1 and returned to finish second to Atswhatimtalknbout in an allowance race over 1 1/16 miles on Feb. 20.

"I think it's a good spot," Baffert said. "He could use another two-turn race. He needs to win."

During's competition includes Special Rate, who finished in a dead heat for first in a maiden race over six furlongs on Feb. 16.

Ballingarry passes on San Luis Rey

The $250,000 San Luis Rey Handicap on Saturday will not include Ballingarry, the winner of the Canadian International who finished seventh in the Breeders' Cup Turf at Arlington Park last October.

Trainer Laura de Seroux said Ballingarry missed training time last month because of illness and will be pointed for the San Juan Capistrano Invitational Handicap on April 20, with a possible prep race in late March.

"I missed two works at a crucial time," de Seroux said.

The Grade 2 San Luis Rey Handicap, run over 1 1/2 miles on turf, is expected to draw Adminniestrator, Champion Lodge, Night Patrol, and Special Matter. Adminniestrator won the $500,000 Sunshine Millions Turf at Santa Anita on Jan. 25.

Ashland could have a loaded field

The Ashland Stakes at Keeneland on April 5 may include the first two finishers of Saturday's Santa Anita Oaks - Composure and Elloluv - and Lady Tak, the winner of the Fair Grounds Oaks.

Elloluv emerged from her narrow loss in good shape, trainer Craig Dollase said Sunday. While he would prefer to avoid taking on top fillies such as Composure and Lady Tak in the Ashland Stakes over 1 1/16 miles, Dollase thinks it may be a good spot to try his front-running filly.

"That track is conducive to speed," Dollase said. "I'd like to avoid Composure, but we've proven we can run with her. She didn't win like a 2-5 shot."

Composure has been mentioned as a possible starter in the Kentucky Derby. Baffert said last week that a decision on that race would be made in late April. Bob Lewis on Saturday said his filly was far from a certainty for the Kentucky Derby.

"I don't want to make any reference to the Derby," Lewis said. "I don't know if that will pass."

Lewis and his wife have experience with fillies in the Kentucky Derby, having started Serena's Song, who finished 16th of 19 in 1995.

Affluent scratches with minor illness

Affluent, a millionaire and six-time stakes winner, missed Sunday's $300,000 Santa Margarita Invitational Handicap because of illness.

Trainer Ron McAnally said the 5-year-old Affluent spiked a temperature last Friday and that it did not recede until late Saturday afternoon. "We just couldn't take a chance and run her," he said.

McAnally said blood tests taken over the weekend revealed a high white blood count. He said no decision has been made on her next start, but that the Apple Blossom Handicap at Oaklawn Park on April 5 is a possibility.

* The season's first two-furlong race for 2-year-olds was scheduled for Wednesday, but failed to draw sufficient entries. The maiden race for California-bred fillies will be offered again on Thursday, the same day that an open 2-year-old race for California-breds is in the condition book.