02/08/2008 1:00AM

Small but select group in San Vicente

Benoit & Associates
Into Mischief returns Sunday for the first time since winning the CashCall Futurity on Dec. 22.

ARCADIA, Calif. - Wet weather and a defective main track played havoc with January racing and training schedules at Santa Anita, but those challenges transformed the Grade 2 San Vicente Stakes from a relatively insignificant sprint to an essential launch toward the Santa Anita Derby.

While only five entered Sunday's seven-furlong San Vicente, the field includes three legitimate Derby hopefuls - Grade 1 winners Into Mischief and Georgie Boy, and Grade 3 winner Massive Drama. Cardinal Zin and Red Hot Flame complete the field.

Into Mischief seized command of the division seven weeks ago when he scored an impressive victory in the Grade 1 CashCall Futurity at 1 1/16 miles. Trainer Richard Mandella penciled in the Grade 2 Robert B. Lewis on Feb. 2 for Into Mischief's next start. Then it started raining.

"With all the mud and stuff, he got a little sore in his back feet and we lost a little time," Mandella said, adding that Into Mischief is "in pretty good shape now."

Georgie Boy raced five times from June through September, winning the Grade 1, seven-furlong Del Mar Futurity on Sept. 5 before he was laid up. Georgie Boy was scheduled to return Jan. 26 in the $250,000 Sunshine Millions Dash, but the Santa Anita surface was rock-hard. Thanks, but no thanks.

"I wouldn't run him on a racetrack like that," trainer Kathy Walsh said. "I hope everybody else came back good, I just can't see horses need to run that fast."

Bob Black Jack won the six-furlong Dash in a world-record 1:06.53, and Georgie Boy was redirected to the San Vicente, which will be run over a repaired surface that officials expect to produce final times one to two seconds slower than the old Cushion Track.

Massive Drama, meanwhile, is perfectly qualified for the San Vicente. He won the Grade 3, seven-furlong Hollywood Prevue in his second start, then lost twice around two turns - third in the Hollywood Futurity, and third Jan. 12 in the Grade 3, one-mile San Rafael after setting an insane pace.

Trainer Bob Baffert does not concede that Massive Drama is limited by distance.

"We don't know," Baffert said. "The Hollywood Futurity was a good race, and his last race, you have to throw that one out."

Massive Drama set a wicked pace of 44.34 seconds and 1:07.90 before tiring to third in the one-mile San Rafael. Baffert said he will try Massive Drama long again, after the San Vicente.

Although Garrett Gomez rode Georgie Boy in the Del Mar Futurity, he rides Massive Drama on Sunday. The change does not reflect a preference. Gomez's agent, Ron Anderson, gave Baffert the San Vicente call on Massive Drama before Georgie Boy scratched from the Sunshine Millions. Gomez also rides two other top 3-year-olds - Z Fortune and Z Humor - for Massive Drama's owner, Ahmed Zayat.

While Massive Drama runs on the lead, Georgie Boy runs best from off the pace. Rafael Bejarano rides Georgie Boy, whom Walsh said is ready to fire after breezing "great" on Wednesday and working a good seven furlongs on Jan. 31.

Georgie Boy has been stabled at Hollywood Park; his training has not been significantly interrupted by rain.

George Schwary owns and bred Georgie Boy, a California-bred gelding who will run long next out.

"I do want to stretch him out, I really do," Walsh said. "I'm happy we're running seven-eighths for that very reason."

As for Into Mischief, he has been stabled at Santa Anita, where Mandella admitted his training routine has not been perfect.

"It's been pretty messed up here training-wise, and it's been difficult to get a real good pattern," he said. "He's fit enough to run, but it hasn't been so smooth that I can say I've got him on top of his game."

B. Wayne Hughes owns both Into Mischief and Crown of Thorns, who substituted for Into Mischief and scored a sharp win Feb. 2 in the Robert B. Lewis. Mandella plans to keep the two colts apart, for now. Crown of Thorns runs March 1 in the Grade 3 Sham; Into Mischief would return March 15 in the Gradeo2 San Felipe.

In early February, Mandella likes his spot. But he cautions, "It's still a long ways to go."