03/11/2003 12:00AM

Siberland in must-win situation


ARCADIA, Calif. - The San Felipe Stakes on Sunday is the turning point of the Santa Anita meet for 3-year-olds heading toward the Santa Anita Derby and beyond. Domestic Dispute, Atswhatimtalknbout, and Man Among Men are the principals, but with as many as 10 starters expected, the 1 1/16-mile San Felipe is anything but a three-horse race.

Siberland poses the main longshot threat. Runner-up in the Turf Paradise Derby Feb. 1, he has won 4 of 7 for owner Dennis Weir and trainer Kevin Lewis. Although Siberland missed some training last week with a muscle pull, Lewis remains confident. "I'm not worried about missing the four or five days; I've got the horse as good as I can get him," Lewis said. "But is he good enough? I don't know."

Siberland burst onto the scene last summer at Del Mar, winning a six-furlong maiden race by 6 1/2 lengths in a blistering 1:09.54, earning a 102 Beyer Speed Figure. Three weeks later, he won a Cal-bred stakes by the same margin. Ten days later, Siberland came down with a temperature that he could not shake, and returned to winter at Turf Paradise.

Virtually out of sight, Siberland returned with successive daylight wins against weak Turf Paradise competition, then was unprepared for the battle of the Turf Paradise Derby and finished three-quarters of a length behind Robledo. "He came up short because he just galloped in those other two races, he didn't get anything out of those two races," Lewis said.

The trainer hopes the race toughened Siberland, who was to be ridden Sunday by Laffit Pincay. But with Pincay sidelined with a neck injury, Siberland will be ridden by Tyler Baze. Asked what it would take for Siberland to advance to the Santa Anita Derby, Lewis was direct. "He has to win. If things go amiss here, we'll go to the Cal-bred races at Hollywood Park."

Siberland earned a 99 Beyer in the Turf Paradise Derby, within range of the 103 Beyer earned last time by Santa Catalina winner Domestic Dispute. Atswhatimtalknbout earned a 105 winning an allowance race last time.

The expected San Felipe cast: Domestic Dispute, Jerry Bailey; Atswhatimtalknbout, David Flores; Man Among Men, Alex Solis; Siberland, Baze; Buddy Gil, Gary Stevens; Ten Cents a Shine, Pat Valenzuela; Buckland Manor, Mike Smith; Brancusi, Tony Farina; and Flirt With Fortune, Corey Nakatani. Logician will work Thursday, after which a decision will be made on his status for the race.

Buddy Gil, upset winner of the Grade 3 Baldwin Stakes on turf, worked the fastest five furlongs of the day Tuesday under Gary Stevens - 57.80 seconds. Stevens said Buddy Gil "loves the dirt, and the Baldwin's always been a pretty good gauge" for 3-year-old class. Buddy Gil is 1 for 3 around two turns, and 3 for 7 overall. He was transferred to trainer Jeff Mullins prior to the Baldwin.

Bella Bellucci retired

The third-place finish by Bella Bellucci in the Grade 1 Santa Margarita Handicap on Sunday was the final start of the 4-year-old filly's career. Trainer Neil Drysdale said Tuesday the gray daughter of French Deputy was retired from racing and would leave for Kentucky March 19 to be bred. Thunder Gulch was being considered as the stallion.

Purchased for $925,000 at a 2-year-old sale in 2001, Bella Bellucci won her first two starts at 2 and then ran third in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies at Belmont Park. At age 3, she won 3 of 6, including the Grade 3 Comely at Aqueduct. This winter at Santa Anita, Bella Bellucci raced four times - fourth in the La Brea, second in the El Encino, and third in the La Canada. Owned by Michael Tabor, Bella Bellucci retires having won 5 of 12 and $511,820.

Jones horses change trainers

Owners Aaron and Marie Jones recently moved eight horses from trainer Eduardo Inda to Larry Barrera. The group includes Kela, the winner of last Saturday's Tokyo City Handicap, and American Standard, who finished third in the Malibu Stakes.

The Joneses have changed trainers in the past, using Bob Baffert and Neil Drysdale in recent years. They currently have a few horses with Drysdale. With Inda, the Joneses campaigned Riboletta, the 2000 champion older mare.

Barrera said he will add up to 16 2-year-olds to his stable in coming months, including several by Forestry and Saint Ballado. He said that Music's Storm, the winner of the Bien Bien Stakes last November for the Joneses, has been sent to trainer Todd Pletcher in Florida.

Kela gave Barrera his first stakes win since the 1980's. Barrera was out of racing for several years in the 1990's, battling substance abuse problems, and resumed his involvement in the sport last year as a bloodstock agent for the Joneses.

In the past, he trained such horses as Image of Reality (the winner of the 1980 Vanity Handicap) and Rich Cream (1980 Triple Bend Handicap)

New jockey agent for Smith

Jockey Mike Smith, who entered the week 10th in the Santa Anita standings with 18 wins from 166 mounts, has changed agents. Bob Meldahl, longtime agent for Laffit Pincay, has taken Smith's book from agent Brian Beach. Meldahl said the decision was not easy for Smith, because it was Beach who was instrumental in establishing Smith as a leading rider in Southern California.

According to Meldahl, Smith considered switching agents last month, and received Pincay's endorsement even before Pincay was injured in a March 1 spill. Smith made the change last Saturday. Later that day, Beach's other rider, Julie Krone, was injured and will be out at least two months, leaving Beach without a rider.

Meldahl and Pincay are closely associated with trainer Bill Spawr, and Pincay's absence is expected to benefit Smith. "Mike talked to him, and [Spawr] felt good about it," Meldahl said. "He's been using [Smith] off and on anyway."

In the past year, Smith has won 2 of 13 for Spawr. The Meldahl-Spawr connection is significant, because Spawr entered the week sixth in the trainer standings with 13 wins; Pincay rode 12 of those winners.

Giovannetti gets a vacation

Southern California-based sprinter Giovannetti, who scored a front-running win last Saturday in the Phoenix Gold Cup at Turf Paradise, will get a well-deserved vacation according to trainer Frankel Monteleone.

"He deserves a rest, he's been good to us," Monteleone said.

The 4-year-old Giovannetti will be freshened and aim for the Grade 3 Bay Meadows Breeders' Cup Sprint on June 7.

Giovannetti has won five races and $205,055 in the seven starts since Monteleone and owner Bernie Schiappa claimed him last fall for $20,000.

* Locally based filly Secret of Mecca, third in the Grade 1 Santa Monica Handicap in her last start, will ship to Oaklawn Park and stretch out to two turns for the $200,000 Oaklawn Breeders' Cup on Saturday. Matt Garcia will ride.

- additional reporting by Steve Andersen