12/14/2006 12:00AM

Stute ready to turn it up


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Gary Stute will be attempting to apply his 38 years of intense exposure to the racetrack on Saturday when he saddles Roman Commander for the $250,000 Hollywood Futurity. If he wins, clear the area.

Stute, known for his effervescence, is the son of Mel Stute and nephew of Warren Stute, both of them California training legends. Gary was 12 when he went to work for his dad, just a tad shy of the age for a bona fide backstretch license.

"Me and Tom Proctor both had 'Trainer's Son' badges," Stute said with a laugh. "But you know, most guys who've been working more than 30 years are looking to retire. I'm still trying to get going."

This year, things have been going well for Stute. The filly Awesome Lady gave him a taste of stakes money, his claimers and mid-level horses have been in steady form, and now Roman Commander could provide the icing in the Futurity, the final major event for the classic hopefuls of next year.

Stute isn't looking beyond the Futurity with Roman Commander. At least not yet, although it's easy to get your hopes up if your horse happens to run well. Consider the company he would be keeping.

Since the year 2000, the one-two-three Futurity finishers have included Point Given, Declan's Moon, Giacomo, Brother Derek, Bob and John, and Millennium Wind. Piled high, their accomplishments include Horse of the Year, a pair of division championships, two Santa Anita Derbies, the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness, the Belmont, the Blue Grass Stakes, and the Wood Memorial. Then there was Lion Heart, winner of the Futurity in 2003, who would have won the Derby if Smarty Jones hadn't been a member of the same foal crop.

Fine horses, all of them. But Stute goes back to perhaps the most exciting Hollywood Futurity winner of them all, when he was part of the inner circle responsible for Snow Chief's 6 1/2-length victory over Electric Blue and Ferdinand. The date was Dec. 15, 1985.

"It was unbelievable," said Stute, who was his father's 29-year-old assistant at the time. "Blinkers on. One-turn mile. One thirty-four and one. I remember everything about that race."

Snow Chief's Futurity led to great things as well. The following season, the little black California-bred swept the Santa Anita Derby, Florida Derby, Preakness Stakes, and Jersey Derby to be acclaimed champion of his division.

Roman Commander has a ways to go before he gets to play in that league. If nothing else, though, he is the most thoroughly tested of the 10 colts entered in Saturday's 1 1/16-mile event. After being purchased for $50,000 out of the Barretts sale last March, Roman Commander made his debut in early May and has run eight times, true to the Stute rule, "Run 'em if they're right."

"A lot of people kind of get an impression and try to make a horse do what they want," Stute said. "I'd rather just send them out there and let them tell me what they like to do."

After four losses in maiden sprints at Hollywood Park, Roman Commander (a son of Travers winner Deputy Commander) won for the first time in the Barretts Juvenile Stakes at Fairplex Park, rolling home to the tune of 30-1. The race was the first victory for Roman Commander's owner, Kendall Mann.

In three starts since, Roman Commander threw a shoe and finished a distant fifth in the Norfolk Stakes, won the 1 1/16-mile Real Quiet Stakes at Hollywood Park on Nov. 4, and then was fifth in the Generous Stakes on the grass.

"I was just glad to see him come back in one piece that day," Stute said of the Generous. "A horse broke down right in front of him, and Alex [Solis] said it was only luck that kept him from going down too." Solis, who was aboard Snow Chief 21 years ago for the Stutes, will be back on Roman Commander.

There have been 25 runnings of the Hollywood Futurity, but as of Saturday they are all ancient history. This will be the first one run on the synthetic Cushion Track surface.

"At least he proved he liked it" in winning the Real Quiet, Stute said. "But by now most of the horses have run over it or trained a lot over it.

"A little bit of rain wouldn't scare me, either," Stute added, noting the weather front predicted for the weekend. "His granddam is by Tri Jet, and the bottom side is all Fred Hooper breeding, which I think was one of the superior mud families for years.

"Whatever happens, I think he's ready to run a big one," Stute said. "I worked him Thursday morning" - a bullet 34-and-change at Santa Anita - "and it was the best he's blown out in a long time."

Stute is hoping to set the table for his dad, who will be sending out Fairplex Park stakes winner Quick Little Miss in the Starlet Stakes on Sunday.

"What I'm hoping for is a Fairplex kind of weekend," Gary said. "If that happens, you might have to turn the volume down on your on TVG."