04/11/2005 12:00AM

Near-miss gets Stein thinking Derby

Singletary wins the Arcadia for his first victory since the BC Mile.

ARCADIA, Calif. - Three months ago, trainer Roger Stein could not have envisioned a day such as Saturday, when he nearly pulled an upset in the Santa Anita Derby with General John B.

At the beginning of the year, Stein underwent surgery to have part of the big toe on his left foot removed after the onset of a bone infection. His weekend radio show, a fixture in Southern California since the early 1990's, was off the air.

Having a gelding run second in the Santa Anita Derby and become an outsider for the Kentucky Derby seemed improbable.

"At the end of January, I was hoping to be walking right now," Stein said.

On Sunday, Stein, who walks with a minor limp, and General John B's owner, Ross McLeod, who owns Hastings racecourse near Vancouver, were debating whether to run in the Kentucky Derby on May 7.

As excited as Stein was about General John B's performance in the Santa Anita Derby, a half-length loss to Buzzards Bay, he is realistic about the gelding's chances in the Kentucky Derby.

"You think, 'Do we really have a chance?' " he said. " 'What will the race do to him?' If he has a legitimate chance, it's whether he can compete with them."

Pressed for an answer, Stein said, "We'll see how he does in the next couple of weeks."

The competition is a huge factor.

Stein spoke with adoration for Bellamy Road, the runaway winner of Saturday's Wood Memorial at Aqueduct, wondering if that colt can be beaten at Churchill Downs.

"You feel good for racing that he ran that well, but it makes you feel sick inside," Stein said.

Stein began training General John B in January for McLeod. The gelding finished third in the San Miguel Stakes on Jan. 17 and returned to win the Turf Paradise Derby in Phoenix by an eye-catching six lengths in February.

The Stein-McLeod team did not despair after General John B finished eighth in the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream Park on March 5, the gelding's final start before the Santa Anita Derby.

Stein considered General John B to be "the best horse I've ever trained" and said before the Santa Anita Derby that he thought General John B would hit the board.

Few people listened. Sent off at 64-1, General John B raced close to the front throughout and finished a half-length behind upset winner Buzzards Bay.

"People think it wasn't much of a race - maybe it wasn't - but I didn't think the Florida Derby was much of a race," Stein said, referring to the big race in Florida on April 2.

Stein, 51, has never had a starter in the Kentucky Derby. Coincidentally, he is hoping that his foot, which still causes pain at times, will be better by the first Saturday in May.

"I have to learn to walk on the outside of my foot," Stein said.

"They tell me in four weeks I should be better. The less [walking] I do, the better. They want me to put my feet up. At the barn, it's not the first thing you think about."

Singletary likely for Shoemaker BC

Singletary, who scored his first victory since the 2004 Breeders' Cup Mile in Saturday's Arcadia Handicap, is bound for the Shoemaker Breeders' Cup Mile at Hollywood Park on May 30.

But his trainer, Don Chatlos, said that he and the Little Red Feather partnership that owns Singletary are debating how to plan the remainder of Singletary's spring-summer campaign.

Singletary will have two starts between now and Labor Day weekend. The $100,000 Inglewood Handicap at 1 1/16 miles on turf on April 30 at Hollywood Park and the $350,000 Del Mar Breeders' Cup Handicap at a mile on turf on Sept. 4 at Del Mar are the other options.

The Shoemaker is a near-certainty on the 5-year-old horse's schedule.

"We're trying to make a decision," Chatlos said. "Do we go Inglewood and Shoemaker and give him the summer off, or the Shoemaker and the race at Del Mar? The Inglewood is 50-50."

Chatlos said two turf races at 1 1/8 miles - the $250,000 American Handicap at Hollywood Park on July 3 and the $400,000 Eddie Read Handicap at Del Mar on July 24 - are too far in distance.

"The mile is exactly his limitation," Chatlos said.

Singletary made only six starts in 2004. He made his second start of 2005 in the Arcadia, winning the one-mile race by a length over Sweet Return. On March 5, Singletary finished seventh in the Frank Kilroe Mile, his first start since winning the BC Mile last October. Chatlos said an interrupted training schedule during the winter kept Singletary from his best in the Kilroe.

"There was no question in my mind that he could do what he did yesterday," Chatlos said Sunday.

Stanley Park readies for marathon

Stanley Park, the upset winner of the Grade 2 San Luis Rey Handicap on March 27, worked five furlongs in 1:05 at Hollywood Park on Sunday, preparing for the $250,000 San Juan Capistrano Handicap on Saturday.

The Grade 2 San Juan Capistrano is run at about 1 3/4 miles on turf, making it the longest stakes run at Santa Anita. The historic race starts on the top of the hillside turf course and includes a full lap of the main oval.

Invitations were issued to 18 horses on Sunday, with A to the Z, the winner of the California Cup Mile last October, listed as the 119-pound highweight. A to the Z has subsequently finished second in three consecutive stakes, including the Grade 2 Mervin Muniz Handicap at Fair Grounds on March 19.

Stanley Park, who will carry 118 pounds, finished third behind Exterior in an allowance race on March 9. Trained by John Shirreffs for Jerry and Ann Moss, Stanley Park was 7-1 in the San Luis Rey, run at 1 1/2 miles on turf. Exterior is also probable for the San Juan Capistrano.

Shirreffs was not concerned about the slow time for Sunday's workout.

"The race comes back pretty quickly, so we weren't asking for much," he said.

The San Juan is one of four stakes, all on turf, in the final week of the meeting, which ends Monday.

Sunday, Megahertz will try for an unprecedented third consecutive win in the Santa Barbara Handicap at 1 1/4 miles on turf. She is trained by Bobby Frankel for Michael Bello.

Big business on big day

Business for Saturday's Santa Anita Derby showed notable increases over 2004.

The ontrack crowd of 38,014 was a gain of 5 percent over last year's crowd of 36,155.

The all-sources handle of $22,660,720 was a gain of 3 percent over 2004.

The track guaranteed a $1 million pool for the pick six. Bettors surpassed that, submitting $1,124,740 in bets. There were six winning tickets worth $104,084.20.