02/28/2002 12:00AM

Sidelined 3-year-olds in regrouping mode

Email

ARCADIA, Calif. - While trainer Paco Gonzalez and owners Trudy McCaffery and John Toffan have action with Kentucky-bred Came Home in Saturday's San Rafael Stakes at Santa Anita, their California-bred 3-year-olds have served as symbols of the statebred division this winter.

Injuries, illness, and postponed comebacks have been the order of the day in this winter of discontent. Their colt Earl of Danby won the California Breeders' Champion Stakes Dec. 28, but repeated minor illnesses have kept him on the sidelines since. Another of their promising colts, Kedington, had to be turned out to a farm with general soreness.

They are not alone among statebred 3-year-olds. Joey Franco won two straight races and looked to be on the verge of breaking through for trainer David Hofmans, but suffered a stress fracture in his Feb. 15 allowance victory. He is gone for now.

The best California-bred 2-year-old from last year, Officer, is back in training at Santa Anita, but is weeks away from a comeback race. And the best Cal-bred still racing this meet at Santa Anita might be a maiden.

That's the bad news. The good news is that Earl of Danby, Kedington, Joey Franco, and Officer will be back, and if they pick up where they left off, this division will be formidable. And the maiden, Jack's Silver, might try the West's best again, his owner, John Elardi emboldened, after the colt finished second to Came Home earlier this meet in the seven-furlong San Vicente Stakes.

After the San Vicente, Jack's Silver finished third in a maiden race on yielding turf at Golden Gate.

"I was a little disappointed in his race on the grass after the San Vicente," Jim Cassidy, the trainer of Jack's Silver, said. "It sprinkled about 15 minutes before the race, and he had too much to do in the race. He's going to go back on the dirt. I'd like to see him break his maiden. John is thinking of running him in the San Felipe. The biggest problem has been that two Cal-bred maiden races going long on dirt didn't fill, so I had to run him against open company on the turf."

Kedington, who beat Jack's Silver in a Hollywood Park maiden race on Dec. 7, went to a farm two weeks ago.

"He needs a couple of months off," said Gonzalez. "He grabbed a quarter before his last race, and then he was a little sore after the race."

Earl of Danby, who is unbeaten in two starts, has had his temperature spike several times since his Dec. 28 victory. "He got sick, he got better, he went back to the track, and he got sick again," Gonzalez said. "It was like that for a month. I've lost about a month. He's been back at the track now for 2 1/2 weeks."

Gonzalez said he wants to run Earl of Danby in the $250,000 Snow Chief Stakes on Gold Rush Day April 27 at Hollywood Park, but conceded he can not afford any setbacks between now and then.

Officer, who won the Del Mar Futurity and Champagne Stakes last year, has not raced since the Hollywood Futurity, which was his third consecutive loss. "He might breeze this weekend," said his trainer, Bob Baffert, "but I don't have any plans for him at the moment. I won't know until I start breezing him. I think the time off helped him. He'll redeem himself."

On the filly side, Bella Bella Bella is shopping for a spot after failing to handle the likes of You and Habibti when she finished last of six in the Las Virgenes Stakes, her first loss after three victories. Her trainer, Jenine Sahadi, worked Bella Bella Bella on the turf on Wednesday, just to keep her options open.