03/13/2004 1:00AM

Santa Anita: 'Eric' third in return


ARCADIA, Calif. - Minister Eric, the runner-up in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile last October, finished third in his 3-year-old debut in an optional claimer for turf sprinters on Saturday at Santa Anita, a race won by the French import Fabulous Groom.

Minister Eric rallied through the stretch to finish 1 3/4 lengths behind Fabulous Groom, who finished about 6 1/2 furlongs on the hillside turf course in 1:12.66 under David Flores.

The race could serve as a prep for Minister Eric to the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland on April 10, though trainer Richard Mandella did not commit to that spot after the race.

"It was important to get a start," Mandella said. "I think he needed this race. Hopefully, he will come on from this race."

Minister Eric has one win in six starts and earnings of $393,800. He was second in the Del Mar Futurity last September in a prep to the BC Juvenile. Following the Juvenile, he was sidelined to have a bone chip removed from an ankle and knee.

Fabulous Groom ($7.40) is trained by Julio Canani for Prestonwood Farm. In France, Fabulous Groom had one win in five starts.

* Lennyfromalibu ($3) confirmed his status as the top California-bred turf miler with a hard-fought win in the $109,000 Crystal Water Handicap for statebreds.

Ridden by Alex Solis, Lennyfromalibu stalked pacesetter Ride and Shine to the final turn before taking the lead.

Lennyfromalibu finished a mile on turf in 1:34.91, holding off a sustained challenge from Spinelessjellyfish to win by a half-length. Ringaskiddy finished third in the field of seven.

Lennyfromalibu won the California Cup Mile last fall. Owned by Madeline Auerbach and trained by Barry Abrams, Lennyfromalibu has won 6 of 17 starts and $404,906.

* Ender's Shadow, last of 10 in the Grade 2 San Fernando Breeders' Cup Stakes on Jan. 10, rebounded to score a 43-1 upset in the $75,300 Tokyo City Handicap.

Ridden by apprentice jockey Mick Ruis, Ender's Shadow ($88.40) led throughout the mile, scoring by three lengths over Total Impact. Gift of the Eagle finished third in the field of nine older horses.