03/10/2006 12:00AM

Spun Sugar sure looked sweet in her return


PHOENIX - Big performances by Brother Derek and Corinthian led the water cooler talk this week, but that was hardly all that happened. There were other items that could have major ramifications down the road.

* Spun Sugar, trained by Todd Pletcher, returned at Gulfstream last Monday with a fast win in a one-mile allowance. Spun Sugar was a Grade 2 stakes winner in 2005 and multiple Grade 1-placed, so there's quality through and through. She was given the last half of the year off after a so-so try in the Alabama but appears to have come back better. Pletcher said the race should set her up nicely for next month's Grade 1 Apple Blossom at Oaklawn Park. It better, what with Round Pond, Happy Ticket, Star Parade, and defending champ Dream of Summer all casting an eye toward that big race.

* I plead guilty. I was among those who considered Lava Man a thing of the past. Lava Man, who had looked so good in big events last summer, but who was vanned off after the Pacific Classic, no factor in New York, no factor in Japan, and who has been battling foot problems all along, appeared to have everything against him coming back in 2006. Yes, he won his comeback in the Sunshine Millions Classic, but it was hardly a stirring display. It seemed more a case that he was much the best horse, but once he hooked the big boys again he would be in trouble.

Oops. Lava Man looked super winning the Santa Anita Handicap, and while Magnum made a good run at him through the lane, Lava Man had already delivered the coup de grace with a strong ninth furlong. Lava Man is a one-time claimer, and it's not hard to see him become a darling in Southern California in the mold of an Ancient Title or John Henry or Best Pal.

* It was a bad weekend for former Derby winners. Funny Cide was no factor in the Gulfstream Park Handicap. Giacomo simply ran around the track in the Big Cap. It's apparent Funny Cide just isn't what he used to be, although at least he won the Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup at 4.

Still, the lack of success after the Triple Crown by our recent Derby heroes is disconcerting. Giacomo appeared to have everything in his favor to at least run well in the Big Cap. And now that he didn't, he may be old news, unless something turns around, and fast.

I'm less discouraged about High Limit. Everyone, including his trainer, Bobby Frankel, worried about his distance capabilities. We were likely just all fooled when he won the Strub. The Strub shows he can perform at a high-class level at up to nine furlongs, but he may still be best at a mile. Frankel may look to the Oaklawn Handicap, though that's looking pretty tough. Maybe he should instead freshen High Limit and target the Grade 1 Carter at seven furlongs and Grade 1 Met Mile.

* The 3-year-old filly ranks don't look quite so strong now. Juvenile champion Folklore has an ailment and is, for all intents and purposes, out of training. Balance and Wild Fit - who run in Sunday's Santa Anita Oaks - look like the two, particularly after last weekend's Grade 2 Bonnie Miss, where favorites Wait a While and French Park were nowhere.

There may be a bright light, however. Teammate, who was no match for Wait a While in the slop in the Davona Dale last month, got her revenge and then some in the Bonnie Miss. The addition of Lasix (and getting away from a sloppy track) may have turned her around. Yes, she was able to set modest splits and control the tempo, but the way she kicked away in the lane was most impressive. She's bred to run on, too, being a daughter of A.P. Indy.

* Milk It Mick was a deserving winner of the Grade 1 Kilroe Mile. I know favored Cacique got fanned 10 wide and others in there had brutal trips, as the first eight finishers ended up within two lengths or so at the wire. But Milk It Mick had to deal with an impossible post (12), and after swooping to the lead seemed to idle for just a second. He then had to quickly regroup and fend off a host of challenges on all sides.

Does that mean Milk It Mick is the horse to beat when these horses get it on again? Not necessarily. My feeling is that if you ran the Kilroe 10 times you would have seven different winners. Ask the 13 jocks who rode and I guarantee you 10 or 11 of them can come up with some type of excuse.