02/20/2002 1:00AM

Searcher injured and off Derby trail


ARCADIA, Calif. - Searcher, one of the leading 3-year-olds in California, sustained a fractured right leg in a Santa Anita workout Wednesday morning and is off the Triple Crown trail. Searcher, a colt by Marquetry whose impressive two-turn maiden win in his second start Feb. 9 hinted at Derby potential, broke down at 8 a.m., three furlongs into a scheduled five-furlong workout under Mike Smith.

The injury occurred as the colt entered the stretch and switched leads. Smith pulled him up immediately, and he was vanned off the track. The injury - a non-displaced lateral condylar fracture - is not life-threatening, and trainer Grant Hofmans expects Searcher to recover and race again. Surgery to insert screws in the break was scheduled for Thursday.

Searcher is owned by his breeders, Edmond and Sharon Hudon, and was considered one of California's most promising 3-year-olds after stretching out and winning his second career start, at one mile, from post 10 in a relatively quick 1:37.64. Searcher's injury was the latest over a Santa Anita track that recently has been criticized by many horsemen. Several trainers, jockeys, and track officials met last Thursday to discuss the condition of the track, after which track superintendent Steve Wood said he would keep more water on the track.

Before Searcher's workout, Hofmans and Smith discussed the dry condition of the racetrack, and agreed to go on. "There's not enough water on the track. I've complained about it and [Smith] has complained about it," Hofmans said, "but what are you going to do? You've got to go on, you've got to try to make races."

Came Home works for San Rafael

Came Home, likely favorite for the Grade 2 San Rafael Stakes at one mile on March 2, worked six furlongs moments after Searcher sustained his injury. Under Chris McCarron, Came Home avoided traffic on the backstretch, and raced along the rail through the stretch, only a few feet inside where Searcher was standing at the three-sixteenths pole. The workout was completed without incident; Came Home was timed in 1:12.80.

Co-owner John Toffan watched the workout and enters spring with an optimistic attitude about the Came Home's long-distance potential. Asked how far he thought Came Home would run, Toffan responded immediately: "A mile and a quarter."

Trained by Paco Gonzalez, Came Home has been increasingly responsive to McCarron's guidance in workouts and competition. The colt relaxes on a loose rein, and picks it up when asked. Though bred to be a sprinter, Toffan's confidence in Came Home's long-distance potential is not without merit. "No one knows, right now, how far any of these 3-year-olds will go. But this colt, he's relaxing now." Came Home won the seven-furlong San Vicente on Feb 2, his fourth win from five starts.

How they stack up in San Rafael

The San Rafael field will include at least three horses with potential distance limitations, while two others figure to find one mile an ideal distance. Came Home has not won beyond seven furlongs; Metratron and Werblin have not won beyond six. Meanwhile, Pelirrojo already has won at a mile, and the improving gelding Easy Grades has raced twice at a mile around two turns.

Trainer Ted H. West said Wednesday that Easy Grades will run next in the San Rafael, and while distance will not be an issue, surface may be. Easy Grades, a gelding by Honor Grades, finished sixth in his main-track debut, followed with a powerful three-length turf win, then missed by a nose Feb. 10 in a two-turn turf allowance.

"Eddie [Delahoussaye] said he pulled himself up when he made the lead," West said. "He ran like a young horse that needs to learn some things. We'll see if he can handle dirt, and if he can't we'll go back to turf."

The things she carries

Beyond shouldering the burden of chalk players on Saturday, Grade 1 winner Kalookan Queen must carry highweight of 122 pounds when she starts favored in the Grade 3 Las Flores Handicap at six furlongs. A field of only four is expected for the $125,000 race, in which Kalookan Queen will shorten up from a win in the seven-furlong Santa Monica. "When they're good, they run any distance," trainer Bruce Headley said.

The main challenge may be provided by Above Perfection, 5 for 7 and stepping up in class after a workmanlike win in a $67,000 stake race at Golden Gate Fields. Above Perfection worked a half-mile Wednesday in 49.20 seconds and will carry 117 pounds in the Las Flores. Warren's Whistle and Love at Noon, 114 pounds each, are the only other expected starters.

* Danthebluegrassman and Mountain Rage, two promising 3-year-olds trained by Bob Baffert, worked five furlongs in company in 58.80 seconds. Baffert also worked Habibti a half-mile in 49.40, and Santa Anita Handicap probable Fancy As five furlongs in 59 seconds. At Hollywood Park on Wednesday, two-time Pacific Classic winner Skimming worked a half-mile in 48.20.