03/20/2006 1:00AM

Shirreffs back in shuffle

A. P. Warrior, Corey Nakatani up, wins the San Felipe in his first start for trainer John Shirreffs.

ARCADIA, Calif. - A year ago, trainer John Shirreffs was considered the best-kept secret in California. But when Giacomo won the Kentucky Derby, Shirreffs was revealed to everyone else as a true craftsman with a racehorse.

He came in under the radar last year, but that will not happen this year - not after A. P. Warrior, in his first start for Shirreffs, powered to victory in the San Felipe Stakes on Saturday at Santa Anita.

The victory by A. P. Warrior was a return to the good form he displayed last fall, and it made A. P. Warrior one of the leading challengers to Brother Derek on April 8 in the Grade 1, $750,000 Santa Anita Derby, the West Coast's final major prep for the May 6 Kentucky Derby.

The was one of four important stakes races for 3-year-olds last Saturday. It probably was the most satisfying in terms of both race time and the number of Derby contenders who performed respectably. A. P. Warrior got a Beyer Speed Figure of 101, defeating the Bob Baffert-trained duo of Point Determined and Bob and John.

The at Aqueduct, won by longshot Like Now, surprisingly got the highest Beyer of the weekend, a 104, even though the first four finishers were within 1 1/4 lengths of one another and race favorite Achilles of Troy was injured when finishing fifth.

By contrast, Lawyer Ron was visually impressive in capturing the , reversing the order of finish of last month's Sam F. Davis Stakes.

A. P. Warrior responded to the light touch of jockey Corey Nakatani, who rode to Shirreffs's instructions.

"The main thing is we wanted him to settle," Shirreffs said. "We didn't want to push him. We didn't want to take a hold of him. We just wanted him to place himself. We had the experience of knowing what they did in his prior race."

A. P. Warrior, Point Determined, and Bob and John all are expected to face Brother Derek in the Santa Anita Derby, though Baffert may send one of his colts to Aqueduct for the Grade 1, $750,000 Wood Memorial the same day.

Trainer Bob Holthus, who ran one-two in the Rebel with Lawyer Ron and the longshot Red Raymond, said both would come back in the Grade 2, $1 million Arkansas Derby on April 15.

Lawyer Ron had been on or near the early lead in the first four victories during this current win streak, but showed a new dimension in the Rebel.

"I was happy he was able to sit back behind horses," Holthus said. "I think that's probably his best race he's had, showing that he could do that. We had decided if someone would go out there, we would try and see if he would rate. Luckily, we had two or three. It worked out great."

Steppenwolfer, who finished third in the Rebel, also will be pointed to the Arkansas Derby, trainer Dan Peitz said. Trainer Steve Asmussen said Private Vow, who faded to finish seventh in the Rebel in his first start of the year, also will be pointed to the Arkansas Derby. Asmussen said Private Vow was tired after the race.

"He came back well," said Asmussen. "We'll go back to the track with him and hope that he improves dramatically."

Trainer Todd Pletcher had big chances with favored Bluegrass Cat in the Tampa Bay Derby and Keyed Entry in the Gotham, but both had to settle for second.

"We're disappointed we didn't win, but we're not down on either horse," Pletcher said. "Keyed Entry came back well. Perhaps we didn't give the eventual winner enough respect as it turned out, but we wanted to take our horse back and see if he would rate, and he did that okay and galloped out good. The strategy was to get him to settle, and while it might have backfired a little in this race, it could prove to be the right thing in the long run."

Bluegrass Cat lost a front shoe in the Tampa Bay Derby. According to Pletcher, jockey John Velazquez "thought it happened on the far turn, when, for whatever reason, he lost his momentum at a key point during the race."

Pletcher said Bluegrass Cat would likely go to the Grade 1, $750,000 Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland on April 15, and Keyed Entry would remain at Aqueduct for the Wood.

Deputy Glitters is under consideration for either the Wood or the Blue Grass, trainer Tom Albertrani said.

"We've always felt he would be a better horse around two turns, and he trained better going into the Tampa Bay Derby than he did the Sam Davis," Albertrani said.

Like Now, the Gotham winner, and Keyed Entry are scheduled for a rematch in the Wood.

"Speed, inside, inner track, all worked in our favor," said Kiaran McLaughlin, who trains Like Now and finished second in last year's Kentucky Derby with the longshot Closing Argument.

Sweetnorthernsaint, who was third in the Gotham, also could return in the Wood, or he could go to Hawthorne for the Grade 2, $500,000 Illinois Derby on April 8, trainer Michael Trombetta said.

Plans for Achilles of Troy are in flux pending a medical evaluation. He was vanned from the track after the Gotham, but X-rays taken of both front legs did not reveal any problems, according to Ernie Paragallo, the authorized agent for his family's Paraneck Stable.

Paragallo said Achilles of Troy's left front foot had heat in it and there was a cut on the hoof. Paragallo said the horse walked the shed both Sunday and Monday mornings and "he's sound as a dollar."

Paragallo said a foot specialist was scheduled to fly to New York to look at Achilles of Troy on Tuesday. He said depending on what is found, Achilles of Troy would run in the Wood or a week later in the Arkansas Derby or Blue Grass.

- additional reporting by David Grening, Mary Rampellini, and Mike Welsch