02/05/2004 1:00AM

Quick rivals dim During's chances

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ARCADIA, Calif. - In the San Fernando Breeders' Cup Stakes on Jan. 10, During was on or near the lead to the final turn, lost his advantage in early stretch, and then launched a remarkable rally to win by a length.

In Saturday's $300,000 at Santa Anita, During may need an encore to win the top race of the meeting for 4-year-olds.

The Strub is a treat for bettors. The race has drawn 11 entrants, including several with a chance to win the Grade 2 at 1 1/8 miles.

In past years, the Strub has suffered from small fields caused by a standout, disappointing casts of 4-year-olds, or competition from other stakes. While this year's field does not include top 4-year-olds Southern Image or Ten Most Wanted, it is still an outstanding betting race.

The Strub is the ninth race on a 10-race program that begins at noon Pacific. The program also features the $150,000 San Vicente Stakes for 3-year-olds at seven furlongs.

During is likely to go favored, but the race strategy may not unfold to his advantage.

Trained by Bob Baffert, During races near the lead, but could face pressure from Formal Attire, the winner of an allowance race at Gulfstream Park on Jan. 14; and Midas Eyes, who finished third in the Malibu Stakes on Dec. 26.

During breaks from the outside.

"Unfortunately, he's got to be out there," Baffert said. "We don't change his style. You can't take him back."

A fast pace will help stalkers such as Anziyan Royalty, Buckland Manor, Eye of the Tiger, Saint Buddy, and Toccet, along with closers such as Buddy Gil, Domestic Dispute, and Mud Shark.

The Grade 2 San Fernando was During's fourth stakes win in his last seven starts, a span that began in the Grade 2 Swaps Stakes at 1 1/8 miles at Hollywood Park last July.

The style of the San Fernando win amazed Baffert.

"I thought he was done, but when he came back he ran tough," Baffert said.

During and Buckland Manor are the only entrants with stakes wins in their last starts.

Buckland Manor won the minor Sir Beaufort Stakes over a mile on Dec. 26. He has won his last three starts since returning from a six-month layoff necessitated by throat surgery.

"We'll see if he can go with those kind of horses," trainer Paco Gonzalez said. "If he runs the way he won last time, he has a big shot."

In the Sir Beaufort, Buckland Manor raced near the lead, dueled with Saint Buddy, and pulled clear to win by two lengths. Gonzalez said Buckland Manor was on the lead only because he drew the rail.

"If we have a good draw, we can sit behind those horses," Gonzalez said.

Buddy Gil and Domestic Dispute are winless since they won stakes at this meeting last year.

In the Kentucky Derby last May, Buddy Gil finished sixth, but emerged with an injury.

Domestic Dispute finished 10th and is winless in four subsequent races.

Buddy Gil finished ninth in the Grade 1 Malibu, his first start since the Kentucky Derby. Trainer Jeff Mullins dismissed that result, citing the layoff and a wet racetrack.

"You hate to give a race in a Grade 1, but that's what we did," Mullins said.

Last year Buddy Gil was outstanding at Santa Anita, winning three stakes, including the San Felipe Stakes and Santa Anita Derby.

Mullins prepared Buddy Gil for the Strub by working him behind a stablemate over three furlongs on Wednesday.

"We took a hold and let him run late," Mullins said. "He did what we wanted to do."

Domestic Dispute finished sixth in the Malibu. In the San Fernando, he closed from eighth on the backstretch to finish fourth, losing by four lengths.

The San Fernando was Domestic Dispute's eighth consecutive loss. A fast pace in the Strub Stakes could lead to a late rally that revives his career.