06/14/2004 12:00AM

Sabiango fitting Whittingham winner


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Tim Yakteen, the assistant trainer in charge of Bob Baffert's Hollywood Park division and a former assistant trainer to Charles Whittingham, beamed as he strode toward the racetrack after Sabiango's win in Saturday's $350,000 Charles Whittingham Memorial Handicap.

Sabiango, who had not started since finishing last of 14 in the Hong Kong Vase last December, had pulled off a surprise win in the Grade 1 Whittingham, leading throughout 1 1/4 miles on turf.

Yakteen had overseen the horse's progress since owner Monty Roberts, whose horsemanship practices inspired the book and movie "Horse Whisperer," turned the 6-year-old German-bred over to trainer Bob Baffert. Since mid-April, Sabiango had worked exclusively on turf at Hollywood Park under Yakteen's supervision.

The circumstances of the win were reminiscent of a Whittingham trait. During his Hall of Fame career, Whittingham was effective in bringing a horse back to top class races after lengthy layoffs. Replicating that feat was on Yakteen's mind in advance of the Whittingham.

"You can't describe the feeling," Yakteen said. "Coming up to the race, I thought, wouldn't it be fitting to win the race. The horse is coming off a six-month layoff. It all came together."

Sabiango led through a slow pace - a half-mile in 50.68 seconds and six furlongs in 1:15.12 - before kicking clear and holding off a late run from Bayamo by three-quarters of a length.

"He had been working like a really good horse," Yakteen said. "He always demonstrated that he had the class. Yesterday, he showed he had the talent. Everything went our way."

Yakteen worked for Baffert in the late 1980's and early 1990's, for Whittingham from 1991-97, and then rejoined Baffert.

"Charlie Whittingham finally rubbed off on Tim," said the wisecracking Baffert. "I've been waiting for it to come out of him. He worked with Charlie all those years and I finally got a good race out of Yakteen. I've got to give him credit because he's the one that got him ready."

Roberts has been involved with Sabiango since he was a yearling in Germany in 1999.

In Germany, Sabiango won two stakes at 3, including a Group 1 over about 1 1/2 miles on turf in August 2001.

He made only two starts in 2002 and six starts last year. During that span, he won a Group 1 over about 1 1/2 miles on turf in Germany, the Deutschlandpreis in July 2003. Last fall, he was fourth in the Turf Classic at Belmont Park and fifth in the Canadian International at Woodbine.

Roberts said he treated Sabiango for bad feet and a poor immune system before sending him to Baffert and Yakteen. Robert's Flag Is Up Farm won the 1969 Sunset Handicap with Petrone in partnership.

"Normally, I'm representing somebody else with a little piece of the action," he said. "I took this one on all by myself and suppose I have $50,000 or $60,000 invested up to now. I had really no guarantees that this horse would ever be in the money over here."

Baffert and Roberts will discuss Sabiango's summer campaign this week. The $750,000 United Nations Handicap over 1 3/8 miles on turf on July 3 is a likely spot, Baffert said.

The win was Baffert's first victory in the Whittingham, and a rare major turf win for the trainer.

"He was ready to run," Baffert said. "It was meant to be."

Sad event, happy ending

When Golden Dragon was being vanned off the turf course with a severe leg injury after Saturday's seventh race, owner Gary Biszantz and trainer Mike Puype were understandably concerned.

Golden Dragon had suffered a displaced condylar fracture to the cannon bone of his right foreleg, an injury that could have resulted in him being euthanized. Unfortunately for Biszantz and Puype, who started the gelding in the seventh race, they no longer owned the horse

Golden Dragon had been claimed for $62,500 by trainer Ted H. West on behalf of a partnership. The decision on the horse's life rested with them.

Puype spoke with Biszantz immediately after the race and then approached West about Golden Dragon's status.

"I talked to Gary, and he asked me to go check on the horse," Puype said. "I told Ted, 'Maybe we can help you out.' They were a little bit down on the situation. They were nice enough to say you can have him."

This week, Golden Dragon will undergo surgery to stabilize the leg, Puype said. His racing career is over - he won 4 of 20 starts and $133,273 - but Puype and Biszantz are hoping he can be saved as a pleasure horse.

"We hope to do surgery and find him a home," Puype said. "That won't be cheap, to do the surgery and rehabilitate the horse. I'm very appreciative they gave us the horse."

When West was approached, he said he was contemplating having the horse euthanized because of the severity of the injury.

"His racing career was definitely over," West said. "He had a really bad condylar fracture. You might be able to save it if it's not displaced. It was completely displaced. I'm happy knowing he's going to a good home."

The incident has soured West on the Hollywood Park turf course. He and his partners lost their $62,500 investment.

West said he will not enter a horse on the turf course for the rest of the meeting, which ends on July 18. He had hoped to run three or four horses in coming weeks. All meet long, the course has been very firm and has produced fast times, including a course record at 1 1/16 miles.

Golden Dragon was one of four horses vanned off the turf course on Saturday and Sunday. Irish Warrior, fourth in the Breeders' Cup Mile last October, was pulled up during the Whittingham Handicap. He was vanned off with an injury to his left foreleg.

Golden Dragon's injury came as the gelding was making his second appearance in a claiming race. Imported from England in late 2001, Golden Dragon had one win in 12 starts in this country. He made two stakes appearances earlier this year, finishing 12th in the Frank Kilroe Mile and ninth in the Inglewood Handicap.

After the surgery, Puype and Biszantz hope that Golden Dragon can be sent to Tranquility Farm in Tehachapi, Calif., which works with retired racehorses. Biszantz is a major financial supporter of Tranquility Farm.

Puype said he had grown fond of Golden Dragon because of the horse's kind demeanor. "Since I've trained horses, he's the nicest horse I've ever trained," he said. "He will make someone very happy."

House of Fortune in American Oaks?

House of Fortune, who won her third stakes in Saturday's Hollywood Breeders' Cup Oaks, has been invited to the $750,000 American Oaks over 1 1/4 miles on turf on July 3. But trainer Ron McAnally said he has not made a decision on whether to switch surfaces.

House of Fortune has never started on turf in her 10-race career, which includes five stakes wins. A front-runner, House of Fortune won the Hollywood Oaks over 1 1/16 miles by three lengths.

"I'm not sure about a mile and a quarter," McAnally said. "Sometimes, it's a little hard to carry that speed that far."

Invitations for the American Oaks field will be announced on Saturday. The race will be run for only the third time this year and for the first time as a Grade 1.

Class Above gets a freshening

Class Above, who finished last of five in the Hollywood Oaks, is being sent to owner Padua Stables's farm in Florida for a rest, Baffert said.

"She should have run better than that," Baffert said.

Class Above has won 3 of 7 starts, including two stakes at Turfway Park in Kentucky

Cheiron vs. Twice as Bad

Cheiron, the winner of the $250,000 Snow Chief Stakes on April 24, and Twice as Bad, the winner of the Laz Barrera Stakes on May 29, are the top contenders in Saturday's $100,000 Affirmed Handicap over 1 1/16 miles.

The Affirmed is a major prep to the Swaps Stakes over 1 1/8 miles on July 10.

The Affirmed will not have a large field. Other probable starters are Boomzeeboom and O.K. Mikie.

* Sunday's top race is the $75,000 Haggin Stakes for 2-year-olds over 5 1/2 furlongs. Chandtrue, unbeaten in two starts, including the Willard Proctor Memorial Stakes on May 23, will be favored.