02/28/2005 1:00AM

Seniors just getting in gear

Hasty Kris (second from right) gets the biggest victory of his career Saturday, winning the San Carlos, a race also won by his damsire, Flying Paster.

ARCADIA, Calif. - Any day now, the racing game once again will surrender its heart and soul to the idea that there is nothing more important than running in the Kentucky Derby. It is inevitable, and unfortunate, since there is ample proof in every direction that a Thoroughbred's life does not end at the tender age of 3.

Indeed, in the case of Hasty Kris, life has begun anew at a robust 8. After a career of 41 starts as a lunch-bucket, blue-collar sprinter who more than earned his way, the old boy stepped up Saturday to take the seven-furlong at Santa Anita Park, joining a list of names that includes Native Diver, Ack Ack, Phone Trick, and Kona Gold.

Clearly, the ability was always there, deep in his bones. Hasty Kris is out of Hasty Pasty, a durable daughter of 1981 San Carlos winner Flying Paster. His sire is Kissin Kris, who won the Haskell and finished second in the Travers. Their foal ended up in the opening session of the 1999 Barretts sale of 2-year-olds, and in order to get a bid down, trainer John Sadler had to be on time. The son of Kissin Kris was Hip No. 1.

"The prince walked up," Sadler recalled, referring to the free-spending Ahmed Salman, "and I walked up behind him. He bid $100,000 and then he stopped. I thought, 'Well, that's bizarre.' "

Apparently, Salman was just warming up. He later spent $2 million on a son of Brocco, while Sadler was content with the $150,000 he paid for Hasty Kris on behalf of client Lee Searing.

Poring over the lifetime record of Hasty Kris, which by now includes parts of seven different seasons, Sadler ticked off a few memories as the freshly minted San Carlos winner took one of his three daily walks. Gelded since he was 3, Hasty Kris has that stocky, short-backed sprinter's physique, with a standard-issue bay coat customized by a long, wide blaze and a stocking halfway up his left hind leg.

"I've had to turn him out a couple times for little things," Sadler said. "He's had kind of a bad hip a couple times that needed treatment. Then he popped a splint when he was 6. But he's always been fun to have around, and he's been around a long time."

In order to win the San Carlos, Hasty Kris had to be both very good and very lucky. For starters, defending champ Pico Central stayed in the barn. Then, in the race itself, Hasty Kris got a dream trip under Rene Douglas. His final time of 1:21.42 fits with most San Carlos runnings (granddad Flying Paster holds the 1:20.20 record), and those he beat included the respected stakes winners Mass Media, Choctaw Nation, and Perfect Moon.

Obviously, patience paid in the case of Hasty Kris, even if his people had to wait until age 8 to cash in his first major win. A similar story has unfolded this winter around Truly a Judge, the former claimer who has become a stakes star at age 7, and Buckland Manor, whose considerable promise may finally bear fruit now that he has found himself at the age of 5.

Truly a Judge, trained by David Bernstein, was coiled up napping in his darkened stall late Sunday morning, dreaming no doubt of his date this coming Saturday in the $1 million Santa Anita Handicap. Not far away, in the Paco Gonzalez shed row, Buckland Manor was standing in ice boots and nibbling at his hayrack after working in preparation for the $300,000 Frank E. Kilroe Mile on the Handicap undercard.

Big things were expected of Buckland Manor from the start. John Toffan and Trudy McCaffery, his owners and breeders, even entertained Derby hopes when he emerged early at age 3 to win impressively at a mile. Instead, he was one of those young athletes who need time to mature, as well as recover from the effects of a throat operation.

"He was very thin as a 3-year-old and a 4-year-old," said the meticulous Gonzalez, who weighs his horses when he can. "This year, he has filled out, with more muscles. Look at his back end. His bones used to stick up, but now you can hardly see them. Some horses, they just take longer, like kids."

Truly a Judge is a fairly easy-going guy who spent a lifetime being rated before Bernstein and his riders decided to let their big horse run free on the lead. Now, with every step he takes in front, Truly a Judge grows braver and tougher to pass.

By contrast, Buckland Manor pulls hard in his training and constantly challenges his jockeys. But when he finds himself on the lead he tends to unravel, late in the game, as if exhausted from the mental pressure of all those calls from Trevor Denman. The key, said Gonzalez, is to let him break with his typical burst, and then sit quietly, allowing Buckland Manor to relax on his own. In this manner he has won two allowance races at the meet, both under Rene Douglas at the Kilroe's mile on the grass.

"Don't move," Gonzalez said, practicing his instructions for the Kilroe. "Don't move at all. The less you do the better. Then believe me, at the three-eighths pole, you will have a lot of horse."