01/30/2002 1:00AM

Not nearly so cocky now


ARCADIA, Calif. - Fancy As had not yet returned to trainer Bob Baffert's barn after a third-place finish in the San Fernando Stakes on Jan. 12 when the trainer predicted the outcome of the gelding's next start. "He'll win the Strub," Baffert said.

But with Saturday's Strub Stakes quickly approaching, Baffert is backing off his claim. Fancy As remains a leading contender for the $400,000 Strub, but the trainer is not as confident. He fears a repeat of the San Fernando result when Western Pride and Orientate set torrid fractions and did not stop. "If it's dry, he doesn't have much of a chance," Baffert said Wednesday. "They can't close. He likes it wet. Today, he would have loved it."

With clear weather expected this week, Baffert cannot rely on a wet track. Instead, he is hoping that a speed duel develops and that the front-runners come back to the field.

"If someone stubs their toe, we'll be coming late," Baffert said.

Last year, Fancy As won 8 of 9 starts in western Canada, including seven stakes. The campaign was good enough to earn Fancy As a nomination for the Sovereign Award as Canada's outstanding 3-year-old male.

Owned by Red and Linda Smith, Fancy As was sent to Baffert in December. He made his first start in California in the San Fernando Stakes and closed from sixth to finish four lengths behind Western Pride. Not many horses closed ground that day, which made Fancy As's performance even more impressive.

"He just didn't seem to be handling it real well," jockey Gary Stevens said. Although Fancy As won over six furlongs last year, he is better at longer distances. His final four wins of 2001 came from 1 1/8 to 1 3/8 miles. The Strub Stakes, restricted to 4-year-olds, is run over 1 1/8 miles.

While Baffert is more guarded with his prediction for Saturday's race than he was three weeks ago, he is looking ahead to the $1 million Santa Anita Handicap over 1 1/4 miles on March 2.

"He wants to go a distance," Baffert said. "He'll be in the Big 'Cap."

Siphonic fine after minor ailment

Siphonic, widely considered a top Kentucky Derby prospect, resumed exercising at Hollywood Park on Wednesday following a minor setback after a second-place finish in the Santa Catalina Stakes at Santa Anita on Jan. 19.

Sent off as the heavy favorite in the Santa Catalina Stakes, Siphonic stumbled badly at the start and nearly unseated jockey Jerry Bailey. The winner of the Hollywood Futurity, Siphonic closed to finish second to Labamta Babe.

"He had a little bit of a stiff neck," trainer David Hofmans said. "Four days after the race, he wasn't comfortable. Now he seems to be 100 percent."

Wednesday at Hollywood Park, Siphonic jogged on the main track, according to Hofmans.

Hofmans said the neck problem will not affect his long-term goal of having Siphonic ready for the $250,000 San Felipe Stakes on March 17. He said that Siphonic would resume galloping at Hollywood Park this weekend.

Mayakovsky targets San Felipe

The San Felipe, a vital prep for the $750,000 Santa Anita Derby on April 6, may be the 3-year-old debut of Mayakovsky, an exciting 2-year-old last summer at Saratoga.

Trained by Patrick Biancone, Mayakovsky worked a half-mile in 49.60 seconds on Wednesday at Santa Anita, his first workout since returning after suffering a hairline fracture in a hind leg in late fall.

"We have plenty of time," Biancone said. "He's coming along well. He'll have to be the boss. I wouldn't rush him in any manner."

Last summer, Mayakovsky broke a 55-year-old Saratoga track record, running 5 1/2 furlongs in 1:03.22. He later finished second in the Grade 1 Hopeful Stakes and was preparing for a start at Belmont Park when the injury was detected.

Biancone timed Wednesday's workout in 49 seconds.

"I put a horse in front of him to make sure he didn't go too fast," he said. "With him, it's just as easy to go in 46 as 49. I'm happy."

Johannesburg's rabbit gets a shot

If Johannesburg wins the Eclipse Award as the nation's outstanding 2-year-old male of 2001, Line Rider deserves some of the credit. While Johannesburg was using a late kick to win several important stakes in Europe prior to the Breeders' Cup Juvenile at Belmont Park, Line Rider was setting the pace and then dropping out of contention in the final furlong.

On Saturday, racing for a new owner and trainer, Line Rider has a chance to shine in his own right.

Recently acquired by Lionheart Thoroughbreds, Line Rider makes his U.S. debut for trainer Tim Pinfield in Saturday's $150,000 San Vicente Stakes. The San Vicente, run over seven furlongs on dirt, will be Line Rider's first start since he finished sixth in the Group 1 Middle Park Stakes at Newmarket, England, in October.

During the preparation, jockey Gary Stevens has worked Line Rider twice and feels the colt may be best as a stalker.

"He doesn't mind the dirt, but you never know how he'll handle the kickback," Stevens said. "He seems like he might need a target. When I worked him on dirt, he seemed more focused with company."

The San Vicente could produce a few starters for the Santa Anita Derby. The probables include Came Home, the winner of the Hopeful Stakes last summer, as well as Expected Program, Mighty David, Popular, Steady Rollin, and Werblin.

Wooden Phone can't make Donn

Wooden Phone, the winner of the San Pasqual Handicap on Jan. 5, will miss Sunday's San Antonio Handicap and the Donn Handicap at Gulfstream Park the following week, because of a bruised foot.

"I can't make the Donn," Baffert said. "I can't train him for a while. I've got to make sure he's sound on that foot."

Wednesday, trainer Bobby Frankel was still wishing he could send Lido Palace to the Donn, but was resigned to a start in the San Antonio. He has been unable to find a satisfactory travel schedule to Florida.

"I'm still trying to make it to Florida," he said. "I don't want to run against Euchre but I don't have a choice."

Euchre, trained by Frankel, was second to Wooden Phone in the San Pasqual.

* Marguerite Ann Cavanagh, 75, who operated El Mirador Ranch in Rancho Santa Fe, Calif., with her late husband, Thomas, died on Jan. 10 at her home. The family continues to race through the Cavanagh Family Trust.