08/27/2003 11:00PM

Sahadi adapts well to role of babysitter

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DEL MAR, Calif. - Jenine Sahadi woke up one morning to discover she was the proud trainer of 11 promising 2-year-olds, representing nearly half the population of her 25-horse stable. That was the good news . . . and the bad news.

"Either you love them or you hate them," Sahadi said, "because they will drive you crazy."

It was also a bit of an industry news flash, since Sahadi's reputation has been made as a patient campaigner of older runners (Lit de Justice, Megan's Interco, Elmhurst, and Fastness come to mind) and the occasional brilliant 3-year-old. The Deputy, Bella Bella Bella, and Golden Ballet fit that category.

But tides change, and the smart trainer goes with the tide. As a result, Sahadi's name has been found this summer mixing it up with Bob Baffert, Eoin Harty, John Shirreffs, and the other trainers whose fortunes are often hitched to young talent.

Sahadi has won two runnings of the Breeders' Cup Sprint, the Santa Anita Derby, the Santa Anita Oaks, and a host of major West Coast grass stakes. Saturday, she will be out for something new, as she tries to win her first major 2-year-old race when she leads Solar Fire over for the $250,000 Del Mar Debutante at seven furlongs on the main track.

Since its inception in 1951, the Debutante has isolated many of the West's best fillies, among them Miss Todd, Darling June, Windy's Daughter, Terlingua, Althea, Brave Raj, Sardula, Sharp Cat, and Chilukki. All of them went on to make an impact on the national stage.

In her last race, Solar Fire finished third in the Sorrento Stakes, and neither of the first two finishers - Tizdubai and Dirty Diana - returns in the Debutante. Her opposition on Saturday will include Victory U. S. A. from the Baffert stable and Halfbridled from the Richard Mandella barn, both impressive maiden winners at the meet. And even though Sahadi concedes she is taking a swing, anything can happen with 2-year-olds.

"I had it in my head early on that she was a grass horse," Sahadi said of Solar Fire. "She did just what she had to do to just break her maiden at Hollywood Park on the turf. Having said that, she's got a pretty good turn of foot for a small horse."

Good enough that Sahadi and her patrons - Carol Chaiken, Richard Masson, Gary Barber, and her father, Fred Sahadi - overlooked Solar Fire's size and paid $100,000 for her at the March sale of 2-year-olds at Barretts.

"She's small - that's the only knock on her," Sahadi said. "Probably right around a thousand pounds. Everything's in the right place, though, and she's filled out really nice. She has a good disposition, and she has fun. What I really like about her is that she will settle in her race and put in her run."

While Solar Fire carries the torch for now, Sahadi has high hopes for Bronze Route, a half-sister to Golden Ballet by Mud Route. Sahadi trained Golden Ballet for victories in the 2001 Santa Anita Oaks, the Santa Ynez, Las Virgenes, and Railbird Stakes.

Bronze Route won her first start at Hollywood Park in June and was entered for the CTBA Stakes on the first Friday of the Del Mar meet. On the morning she was entered, during a routine gallop, all heck broke loose.

"There was a loose horse that almost ran into her head on - missed her by a smidgen," Sahadi recalled. "My exercise rider went from a gallop to a walk in literally one stride, it was such a mess. Then on the backside, when she was trying to get home, there was another loose horse that barely missed her, then it ran around our shed row."

An older horse might dismiss such an experience without a second thought. The impressionable young Bronze Route, however, took it very personally. Upon returning to the Sahadi barn, she tied up badly, as her nerves and muscles reacted to what the filly perceived as a near death experience. Sahadi treated her with the prescribed medical routine, then waited a week before sending her back to the track. There were no loose horses this time, but it didn't matter. Bronze Route remembered her most recent experience and promptly tied up again.

"Bless her heart, the poor filly was scared out of her mind," Sahadi said. "But who would think she would react like that? There are loose horses here all the time. Anyway, I had to get her out of here. So I sent her back to Santa Anita, where she's totally comfortable, and she's breezing again.

"This is the first year I've had as many as 11 babies in the barn," Sahadi added. "The most I've ever had before is two or three. But they are not my preoccupation. I have to make sure they are around for a long time, so my goal is not to have them ready to win by 10 lengths first time out. I'm more concerned with them having a pleasant experience and learn something."

So far, four of those 11 have won.

"The guys on TVG have been giving me a lot of grief about winning with 2-year-olds," Sahadi said with a laugh. "It's considered unheard of' for me to be doing something like that. Which is fine, because I'm having a good time doing it."