11/05/2001 12:00AM

Officer's backers left shirtless


ARCADIA, Calif. - Of the many entertaining memories from last Saturday's celebration of the 12th California Cup at Santa Anita, none lingers with a stranger taste than a scene in the west end of the paddock gardens, midway through the fine afternoon.

There, beneath the sculpted olive trees, while the Mariachi Tenochtitlan band serenaded families beside the fountain, people with vouchers were up in arms over the fact that track management had run out of free Cal Cup sweatshirts.

Things never got truly ugly. But it was definitely weird. Armed security guards were in place, patiently explaining the situation. Young staffers from the PR department pointed to the fine print on the tickets - "while supplies last" - as if that would get them off the hook. Leftover Oak Tree beer steins were uncrated and passed out.

"I don't wanna stein! I wanna shirt!!"

Large crowds are rare these days, so the track can be forgiven if it was rocked on its heels by the 37,184 in attendance for the Cal Cup. The supply of 28,000 sweatshirts went quickly, and understandably so. Although the autumn day was sunny and warm, evenings in Southern California have turned cool. An extra layer comes in handy.

Better still if it's free.

Odd, though, that fans would demonstrate such passion over a garment when, out on the track, they had just been taken to the cleaners for the second straight week by Officer. Hammered at 2-5 in the Cal Cup Juvenile - just seven days after he flopped at 7-10 in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile - Officer ran his race but could only finish second to Yougottawanna at the end of the 8 1/2 furlongs on a fair, dry track.

"Poor guy," mumbled Bob Baffert as Officer returned to be unsaddled, a far cry from the superstar who won the first five races of his career. Now the object of pity rather than praise, Officer suddenly looked like a colt who could use a month off and a name change.

And while Baffert cannot be held accountable for the thousands of dollars squandered upon Officer on both Oct. 27 and Nov. 3, he does need to get a better grasp of his colt, and figure out how Officer's considerable abilities can be best expressed. Baffert already had painted himself into a corner, calling Officer "the most talented horse I've ever had, at this stage" and "the ideal picture of a racehorse." Then the trainer left himself wide open to questions of basic management by shipping Officer 3,000 miles and running him back in a week. You can't wish a horse into the winner's circle.

"They should be grateful to the prince for letting me run him today," Baffert said, referring to Officer's owner, Ahmed Salman. "Look at the excitement he brings to the day. I'll bet he helped attendance."

He probably did. But that's not Baffert's job, even though nobody has a better ear than Bob for the promotional side of the game. Would it not involve such a drastic cut in pay, Baffert could be hired to breathe new life into any racetrack marketing department. Until then, his license says trainer.

Not everyone was disappointed. As the breeder and owner of Yougottawanna, Teddy Aroney suddenly found himself in possession of a 2-year-old with a reputation. He had just stuffed the Champagne Stakes winner in his own backyard.

"It was a great break when they ended up running Officer," Aroney said Monday morning from his home near Del Mar. "Say that Officer didn't run, and I would have won. I would have just beat some Cal-breds, right?"

If Aroney's name is familiar, turn back the clock a dozen years and punch up the name King Glorious. He was an exceptional colt, very much in the free-wheeling Precisionist mold, and he was good enough to win the 1988 Hollywood Futurity at age 2 and the Haskell Invitational the following year.

Yougottawanna, a son of Candi's Gold, would remind no one of King Glorious. The Cal Cup winner is built more along the line of an SUV, fully loaded.

"He was 17 and a half hands back in March," Aroney said. "Sometimes you worry when they're that big, but he was different. We had to cut him, of course."

Of course. Out of self defense, if nothing else. Imagine anything that big, still growing, and with a stallion's ballistic outlook on life. Aroney puts Yougottawanna in the Point Given category - not in terms of ability and accomplishment, but in the large, late-developing sense. Jerry Hollendorfer, who trained King Glorious, keeps Yougottawanna with his Bay Meadows string.

"When he shipped down from San Francisco last week, it was like he hadn't made the trip," Aroney said. "Nothing seems to bother him."

Nothing, as long as he doesn't need to pronounce his own mouthful of a name.

"I read about an industrialist in a story on the cover of the Wall Street Journal," Aroney said. "He was an immigrant, a low-key guy, who came over here and had all this success. He said his motto was 'you gotta wanna.' I ran right to the computer and reserved the name for this horse."

Yougottawanna and Officer might meet again this year in the Hollywood Futurity on Dec. 15.

"Believe me, Officer is still a good horse," Aroney said. "When he ran in the Breeders' Cup, I played the pick six and singled him for a lot of money.

"I'm a big believer in horses running better their second time going two turns," Aroney added. "King Glorious, the first time he did it, got beat at 1-9. This was Officer's first time. Next time, it will be interesting. I'm looking forward to it."