01/20/2004 12:00AM

Sarava's comeback begins


ARCADIA, Calif. - It only seems like 19 years since Sarava won the Belmont Stakes - it's actually been 19 months. But in that time, Sarava has changed trainers, switched coasts, made one desultory start, and survived a serious bout with colic.

His second act was an abject failure, but now he's back for another go-round. Thursday's featured seventh race at Santa Anita finds Sarava moving to the turf for his comeback race. He began his career on the turf in Europe but performed so poorly on that surface that he was repatriated to the United States. Eight months later, he won the Belmont.

is going back to the turf merely as a prep, according to his trainer, Bob Baffert. So while Sarava may be the marquee name in the one-mile grass race, he could be quite vulnerable.

"He's doing much better than he was last year, but he's going to need a race or two to get going," said Baffert, who took over as Sarava's trainer after Ken McPeek guided Sarava to his Belmont victory. "He's not a good work horse. Racing will be good for him. I need to get a mile work into him, so that will be it. And the turf is good for his feet."

Sarava has raced once for Baffert. He finished sixth of nine last summer, when he returned from a 13-month layoff for his first start since the Belmont. He took ill soon thereafter and has not raced since.

Ten are entered in the seventh race, a third-level allowance race that carries a purse of $65,000. The logical contenders are Bis Repetitas, who has run well in graded stakes, and the rapidly improving Barometric.

moves back to his favorite surface after trying dirt when the opening-day Sir Beaufort Stakes was rained off the grass.

He was a close fifth, beaten just 1 1/4 lengths in the Hollywood Derby on Nov. 30. That race's winner, Sweet Return, came back to capture Monday's San Marcos Handicap. The knock on Bis Repetitas is that he has run better at Hollywood Park and Del Mar than Santa Anita.

Barometric is a newcomer to this circuit, and is moving into the barn of the red-hot Jeff Mullins, who won two more races Monday and leads the trainers' standings with 13 victories. Barometric won a pair of allowance races on the turf in Kentucky last fall for trainer Elliott Walden and has been training steadily at Payson Park in Florida for the past month.

Earlier Thursday, the sharp turf sprinter Mighty Beau goes for his third consecutive victory in the fourth race, at 6 1/2 furlongs down the hillside course. He is 2 for 2 since moving to Mullins's barn.