04/28/2006 12:00AM

Sprint talent is world-class

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Proud Tower Too won the $2 million Golden Shaheen in Dubai in March.

INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Good luck trying to keep up with the best California-bred sprinters these days.

In late March and early April, California-bred sprinters won graded stakes at venues as diverse as Arkansas and Dubai.

On March 25, Proud Tower Too won the $2 million Golden Shaheen at Nad Al Sheba racecourse in Dubai, outrunning fellow California-breds Thor's Echo and Jet West. On April 13, Bordonaro won the Grade 3 Count Fleet Sprint Handicap at Oaklawn Park.

Add the 2005 Grade 1 winners Greg's Gold and Unfurl the Flag, who are expected back later this year, and this year has all the makings of a vintage year for statebred sprinters.

"Wouldn't that be a heck of a race?" asked David Hofmans, who trains Greg's Gold, speculating on a meeting among all six of those Cal-bred sprinters.

Unfortunately, it may not happen, at least not for a while. The six horses are going in different directions.

Proud Tower Too is resting at owner Daniel Cardenas's farm in New Mexico. Bordonaro, Jet West, and Thor's Echo are in training. Greg's Gold will return from a rest in the next month, while Unfurl the Flag is expected to resume racing later this year.

For now, the Dubai race is the highlight of the year for statebreds. Considering where the horses were bred, the race seemed better suited for a sunny afternoon in Southern California than a desert night in the Middle East.

Proud Tower Too, who is by Proud Irish, fought for the lead throughout the six furlongs to finish 1 1/4 lengths in front of Thor's Echo, a gelding by Swiss Yodeler. Jet West, who is by Western Fame, finished third, two lengths behind Proud Tower Too.

"It was pretty amazing," said Ted H. West, who trains Jet West. "It wasn't like our horses were by Storm Cat or Giant's Causeway. It shows California-breds can step up."

Proud Tower Too and Thor's Echo are stabled about 100 yards apart on the Hollywood Park backstretch.

"It makes you proud a little bit that you're running against the best in the world in your own backyard," said Doug O'Neill, who trains Thor's Echo.

Proud Tower Too and Thor's Echo have has developed a rivalry in recent months.

Proud Tower Too won the Malibu Stakes at Santa Anita in December, with Thor's Echo third. Proud Tower Too and Thor's Echo were first and second in the Sensational Star Handicap at Santa Anita in February.

Since the Dubai race, Proud Tower Too has been on vacation. He will resume training in June, trainer Sal Gonzalez said.

"We'll give him 60 days," Gonzalez said. "We'll bring him back and start all over. He didn't act like and look like he needed a break, but we wanted to have a fresh horse for the fall and winter. The Breeders' Cup is our main goal."

Gonzalez, who advises Cardenas on his breeding program, said the success of statebred sprinters is not a surprise.

"I think that California has the best sprinters," he said. "We breed for speed, and when you do that you get speed. It's a very competitive field."

The Dubai result and the Count Fleet Sprint win by Bordonaro were the latest in a series of significant accomplishments for California's statebred program. In 2005, seven statebreds won Grade 1 races throughout the nation.

This year, the California-bred Brother Derek is the favorite for the Kentucky Derby on Saturday. He won his third stakes of 2006 in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby on April 8.

Lava Man, the 2005 California-bred horse of the year, won the $1 million Santa Anita Handicap last month. He starts in the Khaled Stakes at Hollywood Park on Sunday.

For the sprinters, expectations are high in coming months.

The connections of Jet West - trainer West and owner Bruce Hochman - are hoping to start in the Breeders' Cup Sprint at Churchill Downs in November. "It's in the back of our mind," West said.

Greg's Gold may be ready to defend his title in the Bing Crosby Handicap at Del Mar in July for owner-breeder Bill Boswell.

Thor's Echo has bounced back from his worldwide trip and returned to training.

"Hopefully, we can win one of these graded sprints," O'Neill said.

The next opportunity for the division is the $100,000 Los Angeles Handicap at Hollywood Park on May 13. The race could feature Bordonaro, a homebred for Fred Carrillo and Daniel Cassella who has won four consecutive stakes.

Trainer Bill Spawr said the best may be yet to come from Bordonaro.

"I don't think he's reached his peak, being around him and living with him," Spawr said. "He's kept his weight on and he's more confident. He's doing so exceptionally well."

For the rest of the sprinters in California and other parts of the world, that is a frightening thought.