10/15/2003 12:00AM

Swift workout suggests Yankee Gentleman sitting on big effort

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ARCADIA, Calif. - Given the exaggerated importance of workouts leading to the Breeders' Cup, trainer John Shirreffs was only being sensible. Moments after BC Sprint contender Yankee Gentleman worked five furlongs Wednesday at Santa Anita, Shirreffs called the drill "not critical; it was just a maintenance work."

Believe it, or not. Because the persuasive manner in which Yankee Gentleman powered five furlongs in 58.20 seconds - the second-fastest work of the day - could make one believe he has re-emerged as a legitimate contender for the Sprint, one of the most wide-open races of the World Thoroughbred Championships. A wide-trip fourth in the Ancient Title Handicap on Oct. 5, Yankee Gentleman looked like the real deal Wednesday.

Yankee Gentleman worked alone at 9:30 a.m. He broke off at the five-eighths pole, was barely urged by exercise rider Charlie Friday, and glided effortlessly through the workout. The final time was impressive, considering Friday weighs 150 pounds and Yankee Gentleman was not fully extended.

"We would have liked to go a little slower, but he did it so easily," Shirreffs said.

Yankee Gentleman will have one more workout next week and change riders for the Sprint. Julie Krone rode him in the Ancient Title, but Yankee Gentleman will reunite with Pat Valenzuela, who rode him in his Aug. 7 comeback win. Owner-breeder Martin Wygod said, "It was a tough decision."

"He automatically comes out of the gate faster," Wygod said of Valenzulea, perceived to be the best gate rider in California. "You're looking at a 14-horse field; position is everything in this race. If we have the right position, they're not going to beat us. This horse can run 1:07 if he has to."

He may have to do just that. A full field of at least 14 was expected when pre-entries were announced Thursday, and the connections of three graded-stakes-winning sprinters will cough up $90,000 in supplemental fees to make their horses eligible.

Trainer Scott Lake said Shake You Down, winner of three graded stakes at six furlongs this year will be supplemented; trainer Ted H. West confirmed that Grade 2 winner Bluesthestandard would supplemented; and Private Horde's trainer said the colt's owner-breeder, Billy Tucker, had a change of heart and would supplement him.

Private Horde scored a five-length win in the Grade 2 Vanderbilt on a sloppy track at Saratoga, then won the $75,000 Marfa at Turfway Park on Sept. 20. Tucker balked at the supplemental fee, but trainer Joe Cain said "[Tucker] owns the mare, and a sister" so there was more to gain than just the $520,000 winner's share of the $1 million Sprint purse. Private Horde's dam is Manila Rose, who retired as a maiden after five starts.

The top contenders for the BC Sprint are expected to be New York-based Shake You Down, and Bobby Frankel's pair of Aldebaran and Midas Eyes.