11/07/2002 12:00AM

Reeling at Santa Anita


ARCADIA, Calif. - Carla Gaines had the best day of her training career last Saturday at Santa Anita, when she sent out Super High to win the $150,000 California Cup Matron and Unlimited Value to take the $150,000 California Cup Sprint. As a reward for a job well done, the Gaines crew got a night on the town, two lovely floral garlands, and an eviction notice.

To be fair, Gaines knew well in advance that she was about to be kicked out of her comfortable shed row, located just inside the main Santa Anita stable gate. Apparently, location scouts for the "Seabiscuit" film production company called dibs on the Gaines neighborhood because of its sight lines. And since Santa Anita has basically turned itself over to this particular project - was Georgia this accommodating for "Gone With the Wind"? - anything "Seabiscuit" wants, "Seabiscuit" gets.

So up went the 100 yards of cyclone fencing. Out came the barricades. Carpenters began to gut, paint and remodel sections of the barns to provide camera room and take moviegoers 60 years into the past, when Seabiscuit roamed the land.

"They paid for the move," Gaines said Thursday morning as she tried to make the most of her new stalls in another part of the stable area. "But they'd better take good care of my garden."

There is no creature of habit more resistant to change than a horse trainer. Shift training hours by 10 minutes and watch them hit the roof. Close a backstretch road and they get the uncontrollable shakes. Move that bucket over there one foot to the right and the world comes screeching to a halt.

"There were some unhappy people yesterday," said stable superintendent Donn Luby, once a trainer himself. "But it's better today. I think a lot of people understand that the movie could be good for racing."

Carpenters were crawling all over the grandstand this week, modifying interiors to restore a bygone age. For the most part, Santa Anita already looks the part. But there were a number of people - employees and otherwise - who were hoping the renovations would include the elimination of the recently built elevator towers that obscured the historic facade.

"They'll probably just take them out digitally," said one long-time employee with a sigh.

In addition to Gaines, trainers Caesar Dominguez and Ted H. West were temporarily displaced. West was informed that he would be moving to Barn 38, right by the main road from the racetrack.

"You're kidding," said Mary Ellen West, the trainer's mother. "Barn 38 was Seabiscuit's barn. They're moving you out of your barn and into Seabiscuit's barn so they can shoot 'Seabiscuit' in your barn?"

Hey, that's show business.

Currently residing in the stall once occupied by Seabiscuit is the 2-year-old filly Leniently, a half-sister to the stakes-placed Easy Grades and second in a maiden race in her most recent start.

"She's really been improving lately," West said. "Maybe even more now that she's in this stall. Like they say, 'It's the shoes.' "

By Thursday, the only living creatures inside the restricted perimeter were a couple of very confused barn cats ("Where'd everybody go?"), a proud rooster from central casting, and Kevin Guizar, a guard with the security firm working for the movie.

"Our company has worked TV shows like 'The Guardian,' 'The Practice,' and 'Ally McBeal' when they go on location," Guizar said. "But I've never been anyplace like this. I guess I'm like most people who've never been back here. I figured you just bring the horses over to run and take them back to a stall."

Having traded Calista Flockhart and Lara Flynn Boyle for a behind-the-scenes peek at Julio Canani and Bruce Headley, Guizar is making the most of the experience. While patrolling the fence line Thursday, he caught sight of Bob Baffert, who immediately introduced Guizar to Vindication, the likely 2-year-old champion. Baffert has yet to be contacted for a part in the film.

"Nah," Bob protested. "I haven't got a face for 1940. I'm too hip."

Training at Santa Anita will be shut down completely on Dec. 2 and Dec. 16 while scenes from "Seabiscuit" are shot. On five other occasions, in late November and December, training hours will be cut short, along with access to the paddock for early morning schooling. The management of Santa Anita distributed a notice to trainers, apologizing for any inconvenience, and expressing their confidence that " 'Seabiscuit' will be a movie of which everyone at Santa Anita can be proud."

One must admire Santa Anita's faith in the movie business. Similarly high expectations were probably held during the filming of "Howard the Duck" and "The Last Action Hero."

"Look, it's free publicity for the business," said Howie Zucker, trainer of Crafty C.T. "You hope it will be a good movie. But the movies today, we never go anymore.

"In fact," Zucker added, "the next movie I go to will probably be 'Seabiscuit.' "