10/02/2003 11:00PM

Slots in the Cup up for grabs

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ARCADIA, Calif. - It was way back in spring when owner-breeder Marty Wygod started talking about the Breeders' Cup Sprint for a 4-year-old who had not raced in months. "I love to dream," Wygod said. "Of course at the beginning everybody thought I was crazy."

Not any more. Two romping wins this summer at Del Mar positioned Yankee Gentleman as a potential division leader though he has not raced this year in a graded stakes. That changes Sunday at Santa Anita, where Yankee Gentleman runs in the Grade 1 Ancient Title Handicap, one of three stakes with Breeders' Cup ramifications.

Special Ring, a leading BC Mile candidate, will start favored over Designed for Luck in the Grade 2 Oak Tree Breeders' Cup Mile (race 8); BC Juvenile candidates Siphonizer and Perfect Moon stretch out to 1 1/16 miles in the Grade 2 Norfolk Stakes (race 10). The deepest race on the card is also the shortest - the six-furlong Ancient Title, which goes as race 7.

To win the Ancient Title and earn a berth in the BC Sprint, Yankee Gentleman must overcome the inside post and a salty field with five graded stakes winners. Captain Squire adds blinkers and has a tactical advantage from the outside; Bluesthestandard has recovered from illness and is training super; 3-year-old Zavata meets older; Avanzado is trying to regain his pre-Dubai form; Proud Citizen is off form.

Yankee Gentleman won his Aug. 7 comeback in his first start for trainer John Shirreffs, then powered to a five-length win Sept. 6 in an overnight handicap that earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 117. The only glitch since was an aborted Sept. 24 workout when he was pulled up after a half-mile. He returned five days later with a sensational work under Julie Krone. "He was brilliant, perfect, and just traveled beautifully," she said. As for botched work, she said handicappers should "just throw it out."

The Beyer Figure of 117 earned by Yankee Gentleman is matched by Captain Squire, who will add blinkers. Captain Squire earned a 117 in January, and trainer Jeff Mullins said he is "coming up to this race the same way." A disappointing recent start at Del Mar can be disregarded, according to Mullins. A free-running horse, Captain Squire was anchored, uncomfortable behind horses, and surrendered. The horse has since stepped up the tempo in morning works. "When he gets to Santa Anita he just blossoms," Mullins said.

The trainer said blinkers were added because "we felt like he was getting a little bit lazy and not focusing on what he's doing. He was kind of messing around most of the time."

Jockey Alex Solis, said Mullins, "worked him twice and said 'Wow!' I asked Alex what he thought of blinkers, and he said, 'I'd leave them on.' "

Mullins and Captain Squire's owners have had a change in heart regarding the Breeders' Cup, which they originally planned to pass. But when Breeders' Cup officials told them that no foreign horses were coming for the Sprint, and that Captain Squire was virtually assured a berth even if he skipped the Ancient Title, there was some thought of skipping Sunday's race and training up to the Sprint.

The plan now is to run in both. "If he earns a spot in the Breeders' Cup, we're going to give him a chance," Mullins said. As for intentions Sunday, Mullins said "we're going to let him perform to his capabilities." Captain Squire drew the outside post, and figures for a great trip pressing the pace.

Handicappers confident that both Yankee Gentleman and Captain Squire will run their best race must decide which horse's best race is better. The lean is toward Captain Squire, who earned his 117 Beyer setting a wicked half-mile fraction of 43.53 seconds; Yankee Gentleman earned his 117 after being 1 1/2 lengths off a slower half in 44.26.

While the Ancient Title is a must-run-well situation for Yankee Gentleman, Bluesthestandard is using the race mainly as a prep. A former $10,000 claimer who became a graded stakes winner this year for trainer Ted. H. West, he has rebounded from an illness that led to a dull effort Aug. 17 in the Pat O'Brien Handicap at Del Mar. Is he back? His recent works indicate he is.

"I have no doubt that he's back," West said. "The only question is if he's championship caliber." Owner Jeffrey Sengara will supplement the gelding to the BC Sprint for $90,000 if he proves Sunday that he belongs in the race.

Zavata shortens up to six furlongs and faces older after a dull effort in the Grade 1 Forego Handicap, a seven-furlong sprint at Saratoga. Trainer Patrick Biancone expects a good effort, but cautions "he's going to be better in 20 days."