01/03/2007 12:00AM

New sprinter in shadow of Fog


ARCADIA, Calif. - Even while holding fast to the rule that "once is chance, twice is coincidence," it is hard not to get just a little bit psyched about the young colt just now emerging from the same corner of the world that brought forth Lost in the Fog.

All the trappings are in place, no adjustments needed. Vicarino, a son of Florida Derby winner Vicar, comes fully equipped with the same trio that made Lost in the Fog a coast-to-coast celebrity during a run of 10 straight wins and a national championship. He is owned by 86-year-old Harry Aleo, who bought him out of a Florida 2-year-old auction on the recommendation of trainer Greg Gilchrist, and he is being ridden by Russell Baze. Just for good measure, Vicarino came out of the Ocala March sale from the Southern Chase Farm consignment of Greg and Karen Dodd, the same people who sold them Lost in the Fog.

Aleo to Gilchrist to Baze, with an assist from Southern Chase. Can it work again? Unlike Lost in the Fog, Vicarino is not perfect at this point in his career, but he comes awfully close. In four starts he has missed once, and that was by just a nose in his second race, when he was still figuring things out.

The others have been choice. There was Vicarino's maiden romp at the Santa Rosa Fair last August, his 11-length crusher in a little stakes at the Fresno Fair, and then, last Monday, his efficient piece of work in the Stinson Beach Stakes at Golden Gate Fields.

Go ahead. Mock the locales. Just remember, though, that good horses have been known to emerge from the California fair system, and it has happened often enough to make it more than a coincidence. Preakness winner Codex and Preakness runner-up Free House both competed at Pomona. Cavonnier, the Santa Anita Derby winner who lost the Kentucky Derby by a lip, won the first race of his career at Santa Rosa, as did Casual Lies, who also finished second in the biggest derby of them all.

Besides, there are runaway raisin trucks that don't go as fast as Vicarino did when he won the Harvest Festival Futurity, clocked in a track-record 1:07.34. In Monday's Stinson Beach (named for a gorgeous stretch of coast north of San Francisco), Vicarino raced through an opening quarter under pressure in 21.34 and the half in 43.81 on his way to winning by 1 3/4 lengths. At the very least, he's doing a pretty good impression of Lost in the Fog.

"To compare the two horses at this point is ridiculous," Gilchrist said Wednesday from his Golden Gate barn. "You can only hope that someday you can. Don't get me wrong - Vicarino does run like a racehorse. He ran his race here the other day in nine-and-one when most of the other races were going in 11 and 12.

"He's a big, good-looking horse," Gilchrist went on. "I mean, he looks like what a racehorse is supposed to look like. But I'd be telling on myself if I told you I bought an ugly horse. You won't hear me say we spent $150,000, but I really didn't like the way he looked."

In some hands, Vicarino's speed could present a challenge. Gilchrist has had plenty of experience dealing with such precocity.

"I think this horse is teachable - he's rateable," the trainer said. "He does not need to have the lead. When he ran the other day he'd had a long time between races [80 days], so he was very fresh. I told Russell just to ride it like it came up, and he told me later that if he would have fought the colt, he would have taken more out than he would have added."

For Vicarino's next start, Gilchrist and Aleo are looking at either the Swale Stakes at Gulfstream Park on Feb. 3 or the San Vicente Stakes at Santa Anita on Feb. 11. Lost in the Fog won the Swale in 2005.

"From here, it's just going to be a question of whether or not he has the want-to, because there are things we haven't tested yet," Gilchrist said of Vicarino. "If he has the class to do all the things that a good horse does, he'll be a good horse, because he's got the ability."

Gilchrist was fully prepared for the world to turn a few more times before looking up to find another Lost in the Fog. Such horses are as rare as a warm San Francisco rain. Besides, it hasn't even been four months since Lost in the Fog was euthanized last Sept. 17, a victim of massive, malignant tumor growth.

"I still think about him every day, but you just have to move on," Gilchrist said. "It's no different than losing a person, but it doesn't mean you ever forget."

Impossible to forget, in fact, especially around the Gilchrist stable, where Lost in the Fog photos adorn the walls, and he lived and died in stall number six, on the side of the barn facing San Francisco Bay. Gilchrist was asked who lives in stall six these days.

"Nobody," he replied. "When I find one I think is his equal, then I'll put a horse in that stall."