03/29/2002 12:00AM

Path to glory may bypass California


ARCADIA, Calif. - In recent years, the path to Triple Crown success has gone through the Santa Anita Derby.

Point Given, the winner of the 2001 Santa Anita Derby, later won the Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes and was named Horse of the Year. In the late 1990's, three consecutive Kentucky Derby winners - Silver Charm (1997), Real Quiet (1998), and Charismatic (1999) - started in the Santa Anita Derby even though none of them won.

This year, it will be a surprise if one of the entrants in Saturday's $750,000 Santa Anita Derby scores a win in the Triple Crown. The list of probables is led by Came Home, the winner of two stakes at this meeting - the San Vicente and San Rafael Stakes. Trained by Paco Gonzalez, Came Home has overcome a fever and an incident when he was cast in his stall to remain on schedule for the Santa Anita Derby, run over 1 1/8 miles.

With a week remaining before the race, the depth of the competition remains uncertain. Danthebluegrassman, Easy Grades, Lusty Latin, Royal Gem, Tracemark, and U S S Tinosa are expected to start. Of those, only Danthebluegrassman is a graded stakes winner, having won the Grade 3 Golden Gate Derby. Holdthehelm and Jack's Silver are also being considered.

Plans are unclear for Mayakovsky, the winner of the Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct on March 17. His connections - owner Michael Tabor and trainer Patrick Biancone - will choose between the Santa Anita Derby and Wood Memorial this weekend.

The missing California-based participants are Siphonic and Yougottawanna, who are out with injury, and the promising Sunday Break, who is in New York for the Wood Memorial. Gary Stevens rides Easy Grades, and is searching for a record ninth win in the Santa Anita Derby. The Derby will be his first ride on Easy Grades.

"There are horses that will improve, but you don't know how much," Stevens said.

"From my point of view, you go in with a positive attitude. It wouldn't be a surprise if two or three of them won."

Johar sticks to grass

Not all of the promising 3-year-olds are being pointed for the Triple Crown. Johar, the impressive winner of a first-condition allowance race on turf on Thursday, will stick to grass, trainer Richard Mandella said. Johar is bred for turf. By Gone West, he is out of Windsharp, a multiple stakes winner who was fifth against males in the 1996 Breeders' Cup Turf at Woodbine.

On Thursday, Johar ($6.60) closed from last in a field of seven to win a one-mile race by 3 1/2 lengths in 1:35.29. He won his maiden on turf on Feb. 24 after finishing unplaced in two starts on the main track earlier this year.

Johar will be pointed for the restricted La Puente Stakes on April 14. "I think he'll be a pretty important horse," Mandella said. "We tried him on dirt because of the Triple Crown, but the longer he worked on dirt the less impressive he was."

Congaree to resume training in April

Congaree, one of the top 3-year-olds of 2001, will return to the racetrack next month, according to John Adger, the racing manager for Robert and Janice McNair's Stonerside Stable.

Congaree is currently at Stonerside's training center in Aiken, S.C. Adger said Congaree will be shipped to trainer Bob Baffert at Churchill Downs in April when Baffert relocates part of his stable from California.

"He should be at Churchill Downs by the 20th of April," Adger said. "The horse has really matured into a magnificent-looking animal."

A winner of 4 of 8 starts and $1,063,400, Congaree was third in the Kentucky Derby and won two major stakes last year - the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct and Swaps Stakes at Hollywood Park.

By Arazi, Congaree has not started since finishing third as a heavy favorite in the Jim Dandy Stakes at Saratoga last August.

Collect Call points to Madison Stakes

Collect Call, third in the 2001 Kentucky Oaks, is nearing a return to the races after a near-fatal bout with colic last fall. Trained by Christopher Paasch, Collect Call is being pointed for the $100,000 Madison Stakes over seven furlongs at Keeneland on April 10. Paasch said he bypassed Sunday's restricted $75,000 Santa Lucia Handicap at Santa Anita with Collect Call because the race is over 1 1/16 miles.

"I think 1 1/16 miles is too tough off five months off," he said. Paasch said Collect Call has been ready to run for a few weeks, but that an allowance race at Santa Anita failed to fill. Beyond the Madison Stakes, Collect Call will be pointed for the $300,000 Louisville Breeders' Cup Handicap at Churchill Downs on May 3.

A winner of 3 of 12 starts and $379,055, Collect Call won two stakes in 2001 - the Santa Ysabel Stakes at Santa Anita in January and the British Columbia Breeders' Cup Oaks at Hastings Park on Sept. 8. Less than a week later, she was rushed to the hospital because of colic.

"We almost lost her," Paasch said.