02/15/2007 1:00AM

No gifts in San Carlos 'Cap


ARCADIA, Calif. - Just because it's his 68th birthday on Saturday, don't expect Art Sherman's opposition in the San Carlos Handicap to roll over and play dead. Although it would be a nice gesture.

"I wouldn't turn it down," said Sherman, who will be running his stable star, Siren Lure.

It is more likely that Sherman and his 6-year-old gelding will have to earn every ounce of the $150,000 purse and the historical significance that goes along with winning California's longest-running and most venerable sprint.

Many of the West's major events at seven furlongs or less have suffered considerable tinkering through the years. Only Del Mar's six-furlong Bing Crosby Handicap, unaltered in name and distance since it was hatched in 1946, rivals the San Carlos.

The first five San Carlos runnings, from 1935 to 1939, were at 1 1/16 miles, and among the winners were Discovery and Kayak II. In 1940, the race was converted to seven furlongs and there it has remained, with its only interruption those four years that Santa Anita spent commandeered for use during World War II.

More often than not, it took a very good horse to win the San Carlos. Imagine waking up on the day of the race and having Ack Ack, Native Diver, Hillsdale, Ancient Title, Porterhouse, Phone Trick, Find, or Admiral's Voyage to deal with. Round Table tried and couldn't win it, and neither could Hill Gail, Candy Spots, Pretense, Hill Rise, Mister Gus, Olden Times, or T.V. Lark. But at least they all hit the board.

A seriously run seven-eighths of a mile in top company asks questions that many Thoroughbreds would rather not answer. Only a very narrow selection of the breed seems to handle the challenge with regularity.

Ancient Title is the patron saint of California's seven-furlong history. His victory in the 1975 version of the San Carlos was one of a perfect 7 wins at the distance in 7 tries. Siren Lure is no Ancient Title, but he did a pretty good impression last summer when he won back-to-back seven-furlong events in the Triple Bend at Hollywood Park and the Pat O"Brien at Del Mar.

"I think seven furlongs is a great race," Sherman said Thursday after San Carlos entries were drawn. "I always wondered why they didn't have many more of them. Of course, a lot of trainers don't like it, because their sprinters get late and their milers sometimes don't get up.

"I think a come-from-behind sprinter is what you need for seven furlongs," Sherman added, "with that late kick that can get the last quarter in a decent time, as long as they're in some kind of contention turning for home."

It should come as no surprise that Siren Lure fits such a description. A son of Joyeux Danseur, he is also a grandson of Gulch, who began life as a precocious 2-year-old, dabbled in the classics at 3, and ended his career winning the Breeders' Cup Sprint and an Eclipse Award for the division.

"Racing luck means a whole lot, too," Sherman noted. "You've got to try and save some ground the first part of it. You can't just drop way out of it and expect to catch them late. And you sure can't go around unless you're tons the best. You have to be able to pick your spots and hit them."

If Sherman sounds half-jockey, there's a good reason. He rode for 21 years, from 1957 to 1978, mostly in northern California and the Midwest, before retiring to take up training. His lone Santa Anita stakes victory came in the 1965 Santa Catalina Stakes aboard the powerful gray colt Arksroni, and he never even had a chance to compete in the San Carlos.

Now he can win it as a trainer with the best horse he has ever handled. Despite his credentials, though, as the most accomplished seven-furlong horse in the field, 10 entered against Siren Lure, who will be making his first start since finishing second in the Underwood Handicap at Hollywood Park last Dec. 2.

"They must all be thinking Siren Lure hasn't run for a long time, so they might as well go for it," said Sherman, who has been preparing his horse over the synthetic surface at Hollywood Park.

"You try to get a lot of miles under him so he's legged up and got that endurance," the trainer pointed out. "He's always going to lay it down the last part of it, so it's just a matter of keeping him fit enough to go a mile. If you can get a horse tight enough to go a mile, he's going to run a helluva seven-eighths.

"He seems to train great at Hollywood," Sherman added. "Keeping him sound is the main thing, because he's 6 now, and he's had his issues, wear and tear on his knees and joints. But he's never really had an easy race. Every time he's had to lay his body down."

Saturday figures to be no different.