Updated on 09/16/2011 6:59AM

Siphonic tries to quiet critics

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Michael J. Marten/Horsephotos
With assistant trainer Michelle Jensen aboard, Siphonic is led by assistant Grant Hofmans at Santa Anita on Wednesday.

ARCADIA, Calif. - Eight is enough. It has been eight weeks since Siphonic last raced, and now it is time for the colt to re-establish his position as the leader among this year's crop of 3-year-olds. He is running in Sunday's $250,000 San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita, a race that lost one of its potential contenders on Wednesday when trainer Neil Drysdale said that Sunday Break would not participate.

The San Felipe is one of four important stakes this weekend for 3-year-olds. Booklet and Harlan's Holiday meet for round 3 of their rivalry in Saturday's $1 million Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park. Two highly regarded comebackers, Mayakovsky and Saarland, make their first starts of the year in Sunday's $200,000 Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct. And the rapidly improving Equality meets stakes winners Political Attack and Showmeitall in Sunday's $200,000 Tampa Bay Derby.

Siphonic has had a curious arc during his five-race career. After winning a maiden race at Del Mar and the Breeders' Futurity at Keeneland, he was roundly lauded for his third-place finish in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, in which he rallied on a dead rail and was beaten by both Johannesburg and Repent. He came back to take the Hollywood Futurity, and as the calendar turned to 2002, he was considered this country's best Derby prospect, or no worse than a co-leader with Repent.

But then Siphonic lost the Santa Catalina Stakes on Jan. 19, a race in which he stumbled badly at the start and never could catch Labamta Babe. Suddenly, Siphonic became the horse everybody wanted to knock. He came out of the race with a stiff neck, and if his trainer, David Hofmans, kept turning every which way to hear the rumors swirling about his colt, he probably would get whiplash himself.

Clockers went on radio shows and said Siphonic was not training well. Rival trainers said Siphonic did not look comfortable. All the while, Hofmans stuck with the plan he had announced back in December, that Siphonic would get a break after the Santa Catalina, then run in the San Felipe and April 6 Santa Anita Derby prior to the May 4 Kentucky Derby. There has been no deviation.

Hofmans has not gotten caught up in the guessing game over Siphonic. He shrugs it off with a becalmed attitude. Asked if he was surprised at how many people seemed to back away from Siphonic after his Santa Catalina loss, Hofmans said, "It doesn't take much. That's just the way it is.

"I know he's a good horse and he'll put in a good effort. We're right where we want to be. He's worked a couple of seven-eighths, gone three-quarters. He's about like he was before the [Hollywood] Futurity."

Siphonic completed his serious training for the San Felipe on Wednesday morning, with a sharp half-mile workout from the gate in 47 seconds at Santa Anita. The time was the best of 34 at the distance. Michelle Jensen, Hofmans's top assistant trainer, was aboard for the drill, which was witnessed by John Amerman, who owns Siphonic with his wife, Jerry. Jerry Bailey rides Siphonic on Sunday.

"The important thing about the work is that he broke so well," Hofmans said. "He went nice and easy and was well within himself."

Hofmans worked Siphonic from the gate because of the colt's poor start in the Santa Catalina. Hofmans said he has taken Siphonic to the gate six times since the Santa Catalina, but that this was the first time Siphonic had popped out of the gate.

"I don't know if horses remember things like that," Hofmans said, referring to the Santa Catalina start. "I broke him out of the gate more for John [Amerman] and I."

Siphonic usually trains at Hollywood Park, where Hofmans is based, but Hofmans brought him here last weekend to give Siphonic a week of training at Santa Anita. The Santa Catalina is the only time Siphonic has raced at Santa Anita.

"I wasn't so sure how much he liked the track," Hofmans said. "It's such a different surface than Hollywood's. I wanted him to get used to the surroundings. I'm very pleased with how he's done. He hasn't shown any signs he can't handle it."

Hofmans also said he would take Siphonic to the paddock for schooling sessions for four straight days, Wednesday through Saturday. Siphonic, who was his usually unruffled self on Wednesday morning, became irritated while being saddled in the paddock before the Santa Catalina.

"He was fine, but the valet who saddled him came out late, and the horses on either side of him started rearing up," Hofmans said. "He was perfect, then he got goofy. It was very uncharacteristic of him."

In other Derby developments Wednesday:

* Sunday Break is bypassing the San Felipe because "he needs more time," Drysdale said Wednesday morning. There is no appropriate race for 3-year-olds at Santa Anita until next month's Santa Anita Derby, so Sunday Break likely will have to leave town for his next start.

* With Sunday Break out of the San Felipe, his jockey, Gary Stevens, has picked up the mount on Puerto Banus. Others expected to run in the San Felipe are U S S Tinosa and Shah Jehan. Gobi Dan is possible.

* The Florida Derby drew 11 when entries were taken on Wednesday. Five members of the Derby Watch's top 25 - Blue Burner, Booklet, Harlan's Holiday, High Star, and Nokoma - are in the race.

* Only four are expected to face Mayakovsky and Saarland in the Gotham. Saratoga Blues is bypassing that race for next week's $500,000 Lane's End Spiral Stakes at Turfway Park, and trainer Tony Dutrow downplayed his chances of running in the Kentucky Derby.