02/27/2002 12:00AM

One horse, two trainers - and no strife


ARCADIA, Calif. - Giant Gentleman's trainer is Brent Sumja. It says so, right there in the past performances for the Santa Anita Handicap. The designation is a partial misnomer, however, and Sumja acknowledges Giant Gentleman's success this winter - he was runner-up in the Malibu and Strub Stakes - is largely because of trainer Jenine Sahadi, who has stabled the 4-year-old horse since mid-December.

Sumja, whose main stable is split between Fair Grounds and Golden Gate Fields, sent to Sahadi's Santa Anita barn two weeks before the Malibu. There were no long-range plans. "He wanted to see how [the horse] ran, and take it one day at a time," Sahadi explained. Giant Gentleman ran super, contesting a hot pace, finishing second to Mizzen Mast, and earning a berth in the Strub.

Sumja had no qualms leaving Giant Gentleman with Sahadi. "She runs an amazing outfit," Sumja said. "Normally, I would never leave a horse like this out of my care, but I saw how she operated."

Giant Gentleman spent the winter with Sahadi; she and Sumja coordinated his training by telephone. "We came up with a game plan, Brent left the day-to-day stuff to me, and it's worked out fine," Sahadi said. "[Brent] lets me do what needs to be done, and I've kept him informed. He's made it easy, he doesn't call me 10 times a day."

In fact, it is Giant Gentleman who has made it easy. He followed his Malibu runner-up finish with another huge effort in the Strub. He finished more than four lengths clear of third, and four lengths behind his nemesis Mizzen Mast, whose defection from the Big Cap makes Giant Gentleman a leading contender.

In the 10 weeks since Giant Gentleman arrived at Santa Anita, Sahadi's staff - exercise rider Jesse Cardenas, assistant Isaias Morfin, and groom Gregorio Soto - have become attached to the horse. It is easy to see why. The colt is docile, easy to handle, looks terrific, and is all business. The colt is named after one of Sumja's close friends - San Francisco mortgage banker George Pugsley. "[The horse] reminds me of my friend - he's a gentle giant," Sumja said.

On Saturday, Sahadi will be in the grandstand when Sumja saddles Giant Gentleman for owner Gary Tanaka, who purchased the horse early this week. None of the parties have speculated about what will happen after the Big Cap. Will Tanaka transfer the horse to a new barn, to Sahadi, or allow Sumja to continue as trainer?

"It's really up in the air," Sumja said. "If I get to keep him, that would be wonderful. If not, we got 10 good races. I can't lose."

For her part, Sahadi has derived gratification from helping Giant Gentleman develop from relative unknown to Big Cap contender. "You get attached to horses in your barn, and there has been satisfaction," she said. "It makes me feel really good. As long as the horse is doing well, looks great, and runs his race, I'll be happy."