07/23/2004 12:00AM

Sadler keeps eye on big prize


DEL MAR, Calif. - If you've got a reputation, why fight it? As long as you're not known as the guy who bites heads off chickens, or owes money all over town, a little bit of a rep can be an advantage.

So, figured John Sadler, if he was going to be known as the man who would be sprint king, he might as well go off and win the richest, most daring sprint race in all the world. And so he did, last March 27, when he saddled Our New Recruit on a starry evening in Dubai to win the $2 million Golden Shaheen. Not too many pure sprinters win $1.2 million in a career, let alone in a single race.

With the victory, Our New Recruit joined an all-time Sadler team of stakes-winning speedsters that includes Melair, Olympic Prospect, Track Gal, Frost Free, Rosie's K.T., Ceeband, Three Peat, Valiant Pete, Don's Irish Melody, and Christmas Boy.

For variety, Sadler likes to surprise the crowd by winning major races that actually require two turns. In the last year alone, his horses have won the California Cup Classic and the El Encino Stakes at Santa Anita, the Vanity Handicap at Hollywood and the San Diego Handicap at Del Mar.

But back to basics. At 1,200 meters, which is 23 feet shy of six furlongs, the Golden Shaheen is run over a dirt straightaway. This makes the race pretty much a set-up for American-trained sprinters, whose motto is basically "point and shoot." A "shaheen," for what it's worth, is a falcon.

Our New Recruit was winning his first stakes event while making the 16th start of his career on the night he won the Shaheen by two lengths over Alke. Cajun Beat, winner of the 2003 Breeders' Cup Sprint, finished fourth.

Coming home an overnight sensation, Our New Recruit seemed destined for the major sprints of the summer season, spread out over Hollywood Park, Del Mar, or even points east.

Since Dubai, however, Our New Recruit has been a no-show, and when the nominations for Sunday's $250,000 Bing Crosby Handicap appeared without his name attached, it was time to go make sure he still had a pulse. Thankfully, he does.

Trainers on both coasts have been known to be conservative in returning horses to action after making the trip to the Middle East. Sadler seemed to be abusing the privilege.

"Do you want to know the truth?" Sadler said with a grin. "The second he won the race in Dubai, it seemed to me the most sensible thing to do would be to immediately point for the same race the next year."

Well, duh. For once, here was a horseman who was listening to a calendar that differed from the standard-issue versions that feature only the Triple Crown and the Breeders' Cup. To Sadler, winning the richest sprint race in the world was not a signal to immediately go forth across the U.S., hunting for $200,000 pots. For Our New Recruit, the Golden Shaheen marked the glorious end of a four-race campaign that began the previous October. There was no reason to ask for more.

"He loved it over there," Sadler said. "From the minute he hit the ground he was bright, happy, ears forward. I had a feeling he'd run the way he did.

"Still, the stress of the trip took its toll," he said. "He was on Gastroguard for his ulcers, and while we were over there they provided it for us. Even so, when we got home and scoped his stomach, the ulcers were just raging."

Our New Recruit spent some down time at the Rancho Paseana training center near Del Mar before rejoining the stable, good as new, and now Sadler says he hopes a similar scenario will result in a second Golden Shaheen next March. His first significant target will be the Ancient Title Handicap during the Oak Tree meeting in early October, a race Sadler has won three times.

In the meantime, Sadler is not without resources for a race like Crosby. He won the race for the first time in 1988 with Olympic Prospect, then again in 1999 with Frost Free. On Sunday, he will be running Hombre Rapido, a 7-year-old son of Falstaff who can shade 44 seconds for the half without breaking a sweat.

Hombre Rapido missed a year with a foot injury that was difficult to diagnose, and now he has had two races to shake off the cobwebs. He'll need to be sharp, having drawn the outside of 11 entered in the Crosby, among them past winners Beau's Town and Disturbingthepeace.

"They went pretty fast his first race back in the L.A. Times Handicap," Sadler said, recalling the sight of the old boy giving chase to a quarter in 21 seconds and a half in 43.20. "I'm not sure he wanted to go quite that quick right out of the box. But I think he's still got the speed to give them a battle."