01/17/2004 12:00AM

No stealing this one

Fairly Ransom, here winning the Del Mar Derby, has a rematch with barnmate Sweet Return in the San Marcos.

ARCADIA, Calif. - The stunt that Julie Krone pulled off aboard in the Hollywood Derby will not work when Gary Stevens rides the colt in Monday's $150,000 San Marcos Stakes at Santa Anita.

After setting a pedestrian pace in the Hollywood Derby on Nov. 30 - dawdling fractions of 51.04 and 1:17.49 - Sweet Return pulled a 16-1 upset under Krone, edging stablemate Fairly Ransom.

In the San Marcos, over 1 1/4 miles on turf, Sweet Return's rivals are not expected to let Stevens get away with an uncontested lead.

"Julie rode unbelievably that day," trainer Ron McAnally said. "To me, she rode a perfect race."

With Krone sidelined with a rib injury, Stevens regained the ride on Sweet Return. Last summer McAnally thought Sweet Return was a miler, but his win in the 1 1/4-mile Hollywood Derby and a fast-closing second in the 1 1/8-mile Oak Tree Derby, under Stevens, has changed his mind.

McAnally says the colt is tactically diverse and more than just a front-runner.

"The horse doesn't have to be in front," he said. "I have to feel more confident with the mile and a quarter."

Hecandigit, who has 1 win in 6 allowance races in the last year, can lead but has not shown the class to win a graded stakes.

Some entrants may be better suited to longer races. Puerto Banus, Runaway Dancer, and Sharbayan have won stakes over 1 1/2 miles on turf in the last year. Gene de Campeao is another marathoner. A Brazilian import, he has won two Group 1 races in the last 14 months but has not started since August.

Three other 4-year-olds are the biggest threats to Sweet Return - Californian, Fairly Ransom, and Nothing to Lose.

Californian was ninth in the Hollywood Derby, his fifth consecutive loss, but was beaten only 1 3/4 lengths. The narrow defeat was reflective of the finish, with several horses making stretch runs that got close, but fell short, of catching Sweet Return.

Fairly Ransom was beaten a half-length by Sweet Return in the Hollywood Derby. "He was still closing at the end. I think the other riders realized that she put them to sleep," McAnally said of Krone.

Fairly Ransom was an outstanding winner of the Del Mar Derby in September, his first stakes win since arriving from France last summer.

Nothing to Lose returns from the longest layoff, having not started since winning the Palm Beach Stakes last February at Gulfstream Park. A stalker, he will be attempting his longest race in the San Marcos, and making his first start for trainer Bobby Frankel.