01/07/2002 12:00AM

With stars on bench, no reason to be afraid


ARCADIA, Calif. - Imagine what life would have been like this winter for trainer Bob Baffert, and the Santa Anita handicap division, if both Point Given and Congaree were around. Baffert did Monday morning, when he marveled at the large field expected for Saturday's Grade 2, $200,000 San Fernando Breeders' Cup Stakes at Santa Anita.

So what if Baffert's two stars were running Saturday?

"Well, there'd be a shorter field," he said.

Instead, the 1 1/16-mile San Fernando - the second leg of the Strub Series, which is exclusively for 4-year-olds - is expected to have a field of 11, including a pair from Baffert's barn, Fancy As and Pie N Burger, who worked five furlongs alongside one another on a gorgeous morning at Santa Anita.

Fancy As, who will be making his first start here after dominating his competition last year at Hastings Park in Vancouver, B.C., and Pie N Burger both were credited with times of 59.20 seconds, but it was Fancy As who was far more impressive. He broke off a half-length behind Pie N Burger, finished a half-length in front, and was going the easier of the two when they hit the wire.

"He's getting better every week," said Baffert, who has been training Fancy As for about one month. "He's tall and thin. He likes to run into the bit."

Gary Stevens will ride Fancy As, and David Flores has the call on Pie N Burger. The remainder of the field is expected to be Bring Home Thegold (Victor Espinoza), Discreet Hero (Laffit Pincay Jr.), I Love Silver (Eddie Delahoussaye), Mo Mon (Jose Valdivia Jr.), Momentum (Corey Nakatani), Orientate (Chris McCarron), Reef Diver (Mike Smith), Stormin' Heaven (Kent Desormeaux), and Western Pride (Garrett Gomez).

Momentum, who beat older horses in the Native Diver Handicap at Hollywood Park, is the likely favorite. He drilled six furlongs in 1:11.40 on Sunday morning at Hollywood Park.

The race will not have Mizzen Mast, who won the first leg of the series, the opening-day Malibu Stakes on Dec. 26. He is being kept around one turn, with his long-term objective the Grade 1 Metropolitan Handicap at Belmont Park on Memorial Day.

New bit for I Love Silver

I Love Silver, who finished third in the Malibu Stakes and will be one of the top choices in the San Fernando, has tended to lug in at the end of his races. In an attempt to keep him running straight, trainer Dean Greenman said he will outfit I Love Silver with a leather-prong bit, which affords a jockey more control.

"He's been doing it since he was a maiden," said Greenman. "There's nothing wrong with him. It's just a bad habit. In the Malibu, he got a lot of dirt in his face. He was fighting that. His eyes were shut after the race. I think that contributed to it.

"The other day, when Eddie [Delahoussaye] worked him, we used it, and it seemed to help a little. I don't think he needs blinkers. Maybe I'm stubborn, but I don't think he needs them."

Greenman said I Love Silver's next start will depend on how he performs going two turns in the San Fernando. If he runs well, he would go on to the final leg of the Strub Series, the Grade 2, $400,000 Strub Stakes at 1 1/8 miles on Feb. 2. If the distance does not suit I Love Silver, then Greenman said he would return I Love Silver to a sprint and point for the Grade 3, $150,000 San Carlos Handicap at seven furlongs on March 3. Greenman wants to run I Love Silver in a $1 million race at one mile in Dubai at the end of March.

Because I Love Silver is a gelding, Greenman envisions making several trips to Dubai. "A million-dollar race that's a one-turn mile. I'd like to try to do that the next three years," Greenman said.

San Gorgonio runners work

Both Janet and Tropical Lady, among the expected starters in Sunday's Grade 2, $150,000 San Gorgonio Handicap, worked Monday morning at Santa Anita.

Janet covered six furlongs in 1:14.60 for trainer Darrell Vienna, and Tropical Lady worked five furlongs in 59.80 seconds for trainer Eduardo Inda. Flores has the call on Janet, with Nakatani riding Tropical Lady.

The San Gorgonio, a 1 1/8-mile grass race for older fillies and mares, is also expected to lure Alexine (Brice Blanc), Built to Last (Alex Solis), Dancingonice (Tyler Baze), Impeachable (Valdivia), Tout Charmant (McCarron), and Vencera (Stevens). Possible are Minor Details and Old Money.

'Awesome' maiden win

Jockey Corey Nakatani had only one word to describe Spring Meadow's maiden win in Sunday's sixth race.

"Awesome," Nakatani told owner Bob Shimmon and trainer Bob Hess in the winner's circle.

The 3-year-old filly Spring Meadow ran six furlongs in 1:08.98 to win her debut by four lengths over Saint Bernadette.

Spring Meadow's victory left Hess with a strong opinion of her future. Her win came 90 minutes after Bella Bella Bella had won the Grade 3 Santa Ysabel Stakes for 3-year-old fillies.

"She's the best 3-year-old filly to run today," Hess said of Spring Meadow. "I know that in my heart."

Hess described Spring Meadow as "my little D'wildcat," comparing her to the winner of the 2001 Swale Stakes.

Field size on rise

One of the most significant results of the nine-day break between the conclusion of the Hollywood Park meeting on Dec. 17 and the launch of this meeting on Dec. 26 has been an increase in field size.

Through Sunday, the 10th day of the meeting, fields had averaged 9.4 runners per race. That's a substantial increase in field size over the same period during recent meetings. Going back one, three, and five meetings, there were 8.1 runners through the first 10 days of the last meeting, 8.8 in the 1998-99 meeting, and 8 in the 1996-97 meeting.

Larger fields translate into more competitive racing. At this meeting, there have been four carryovers in the pick six.

Racing secretary Mike Harlow does not expect a reduction in field size through the existing condition book, which covers races through Jan. 21.

Harlow cites the strength of the final week of the Hollywood Park meeting, when horsemen rushed to start horses before the break, and decent weather as factors in races filling.

"We're backed up," Harlow said. "We should fill well through the next [condition] book. I've got people eager to run in races I can't use. Some maiden races have filled with 30 runners. It's a great problem to have."

Saturday's program, for example, had six fields with 10 or more runners.

"I thought it'd be good, but not as good as it has been," Harlow said. "Pretty much every allowance I've had has filled, and that's encouraging. Everyone seems to be pleased."

Trial run for Italian jockey

Mirco DeMuro, one of Italy's top jockeys, has arrived at Santa Anita to ride for two months.

DeMuro, who won two races from four mounts at Del Mar last summer, recently spent four weeks in Japan, where he rode 14 winners from mid-November to mid-December.

DeMuro said on Saturday that he intends to ride at Santa Anita until late February, when he will return to Japan to complete a riding contract. This spring, DeMuro said, he will ride in Europe, but plans to return to California in the summer to ride full-time.

"I want to stay here," he said.

Kona Gold starting back

*, the champion sprinter of 2000, has resumed training at trainer Bruce Headley's home, where Headley has facilities to exercise horses. Headley said Kona Gold is doing light exercise and that the 8-year-old gelding will return to the racetrack later this month.

"I might do this for a week or 10 days," Headley said. "His feet were pretty sore when I pulled the shoes off of him."

Headley has two logical races for Kona Gold's comeback - the $150,000 San Carlos Handicap on March 3 or the $200,000 Potrero Grande Breeders' Cup Handicap on March 30.

Three hit it big

There were three winning tickets worth $233,105.60 in Sunday's pick six, which had a carryover of $166,344 from Saturday's program. One ticket was sold ontrack and two were purchased in Las Vegas.

The winning horses in the pick six races were Lift Off ($39.60), Komistar ($23.40), Spring Meadow ($6.40), Truly a Judge ($6.20), Mountain Rage ($7), and Rubin's Rose ($17.20).

* Breeders' Cup Sprint winner Squirtle Squirt worked five furlongs in 1:00.40 Sunday morning at Hollywood Park in preparation for the Grade 2, $150,000 Palos Verdes Handicap on Jan. 27.

* Flores will miss racing at Santa Anita from Wednesday through Friday in order to ride in Saudi Arabia. He is expected to be back for the weekend's races.

* Baffert recently became engaged to his long-time girlfriend, former television personality Jill Moss.

- additional reporting by Steve Andersen


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