01/15/2008 12:00AM

Sea of Pleasure follows rare path

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ARCADIA, Calif. - For nearly a year, Sea of Pleasure has lived up to his hype.

Before he made his first start last March, Sea of Pleasure was one of the most talked about early season 2-year-olds, and he backed up the chatter with a four-length victory in track-record time in a two-furlong maiden race at Santa Anita.

After being sidelined through the summer and most of the fall, Sea of Pleasure returned to racing last month, winning an optional claimer over six furlongs at Hollywood Park and proving that his maiden race was not a 20.78-second fluke. Any further accomplishments will really attract attention.

On Sunday, Sea of Pleasure makes his stakes debut in the $75,000 San Pedro Stakes over 6 1/2 furlongs at Santa Anita.

Judging from the comments of his principal owner, Steve Burnett, Sea of Pleasure is not just a flashy 2-year-old.

"I don't think we've seen the best of him," said Burnett, who owns the colt with his father, Terry, and minority partners Bruno De Julio, Sergio Bohon, and Bill Leutzinger.

Steve Burnett, 41, and his father bought Sea of Pleasure for an undisclosed amount last winter from bloodstock agent and sale consignor John Brocklebank as part of a two-horse package. At the time, Brocklebank had the colt in training at Fairplex Park alongside of the horses he had consigned to the 2-year-olds in training sales at Barretts.

"I was told by John Brocklebank that he was a unique horse," Burnett said.

The predictions were proven correct on March 29 when Sea of Pleasure made his first start, which came for trainer Shane Chipman, a partner of Brocklebank in their pinhooking operation. Sent off as a heavy favorite, Sea of Pleasure zipped two furlongs down the Santa Anita stretch to win easily.

Sea of Pleasure is bidding to become the rare winner of a two-furlong maiden race who becomes an important horse. Two-furlong races have been run at Santa Anita since the mid-1990s, and most runners have speed-oriented pedigrees and are not a factor in the 2-year-old division by late summer.

One exception was Golden Ballet, who was beaten twice in two-furlong races in 2000 and later won the Grade 1 Santa Anita Oaks and Grade 1 Las Virgenes Stakes in 2001.

Sea of Pleasure fell off the radar last spring. Sent to the Kentucky for the Three Chimneys Juvenile Stakes at Churchill Downs, Sea of Pleasure was taken out of training because of sore shins and was sidelined through the summer.

Sea of Pleasure resumed training in the fall under Gary Stute. Burnett wanted to run Sea of Pleasure in a Dec. 7 optional claimer at Hollywood and avoid the uncertainty surrounding the drainage problems at Santa Anita, but Stute warned him that Sea of Pleasure may not be ready to run. Turned out he was. Sea of Pleasure took the lead at the start and pulled away through the final furlong to win by 2 1/2 lengths, earning a Beyer Speed Figure of 95.

Suddenly, he was quite a bit more than just a two-furlong maiden race winner.

"I wasn't planning on running him until Jan. 1," Stute said. "With the problems with the track, the owners said they wanted to run him. I didn't think he was quite fit. I said, 'Don't be upset if he gets beat.'"

"He'd been in training for only 90 days before the race. He really impressed me."

Burnett, is hoping that Sea of Pleasure can win Sunday and start in the Grade 2, $150,000 San Vicente Stakes over seven furlongs Feb. 10.

"We've had the San Pedro and the San Vicente earmarked since he was on the farm healing from his shins," he said. "He will get a test in the San Pedro."

How effective Sea of Pleasure will be in longer races is open to debate and an issue for later this year. Sea of Pleasure is by Sea of Secrets, which suggests he will be best as a sprinter. Regardless of the colt's distance capabilities, Burnett said he has an edge over most other horses.

"One of his best attributes is I think he's an incredibly intelligent animal," Burnett said. "I've had some stupid animals, but I think he's one off the smartest horses I've been around."

Burnett, who owns an apparel manufacturing company based in Orange County, Calif., and his father have owned horses since the late 1980s, mostly claimers. Sea of Pleasure is by far the most promising horse they have owned.

"We've waited 20 years to have a horse like this," Burnett said. "This horse is something special for my dad. He's gone through 20 years of a tough time in this business. Finally, a son can give his father something."