03/11/2004 1:00AM

Taiaslew ready to challenge Gold Cup vets


PHOENIX - You would think that if you were one of the first two runners across the wire of the 2003 Phoenix Gold Cup, you would deserve marquee status in Saturday's edition of the race. Yet although Giovannetti and R. Baggio are well regarded in the field of nine, it's Taiaslew who takes center stage in Turf Paradise's signature event.

Taiaslew comes off a smashing local debut. In the Feb. 21 Coyote Handicap, Taiaslew covered six furlongs in 1:07.42, the sixth fastest time ever run here. He earned a 104 Beyer while making his first start since September and whipped multiple-stakes-winning Southern California invader Boston Common by almost seven lengths.

Taiaslew was the 2003 Washington-bred horse of the year on the strength of four wins from seven starts. The David Van Winkle trainee carries high weight of 123 pounds in the $100,000 Gold Cup and will again be ridden by Glenn Corbett. He must, however, deal with a disadvantageous rail draw and a ton of opposing early speed in the six-furlong race.

Last year's Gold Cup hero Giovannetti will be part of the early pace. Giovannetti won last year's Gold Cup in wire-to-wire fashion, covering the distance in 1:09 and edging out R. Baggio by three-quarters of a length. Only four other horses in the previous 48 years have won the $100,000 Phoenix Gold Cup two years in a row.

Giovannetti comes off a smashing wire-to-wire win in the Sen. Ken Maddy Handicap at Golden Gate on Feb. 21. A 5-year-old trained by Frank Monteleone, Giovannetti sizzled six furlongs in 1:08.49 in the Maddy. He carries 119 pounds, including rider Danny Sorenson, and will break from post 7.

R. Baggio was disqualified from second in this race last year. He closed furiously that day and may again get a quick pace to set up his late run. R. Baggio failed to fire in the Daytona Handicap down the hill on the Santa Anita turf course Feb. 15, but before that came home strongly to win the Paradise Mile Handicap on the turf here Jan. 3.

R. Baggio is trained by Eric Kruljac, will be ridden by Hoogie Drexler at 120 pounds, and breaks from post 4.

Our Bobby V. ships in from Southern California. A 4-year-old gelding, Our Bobby V. hasn't been sharp lately, but boasts plenty of speed and may well have needed his last few after a lengthy vacation.

Fonz's invades from Southern California for trainer David

La Croix. He comes off a second to Unfurl the Flag in a race where Unfurl the Flag tied Spectacular Bid's seven-furlong track record at Santa Anita. There's back-class here and like R. Baggio, he may get the right trip.

Grimm still possesses plenty of speed and was part of the duel with Giovannetti in this race last year. Finally, Canny Fly is the dark horse. Trained by Brian Lynch, who's having a huge meet at Santa Anita this year, Canny Fly powered home to win a turf sprint at Santa Anita Jan. 25.

Magnificent Val the one to beat

Magnificent Val looms a short price in the supporting feature, the $40,000 Sun City Handicap. A mile turf race for fillies and mares, the Sun City drew a field of nine, but on paper it looks like Magnificent Val's race to lose. Trained by Jeff Mullins, Magnificent Val has won four straight, including a romp in the Feb. 14 Glendale Handicap here on this course going 1 1/16 miles. In that race, she beat many of the same distaffers she meets here. She carries high weight of 125 pounds, has rider Jake Barton, and looms an overwhelming favorite.

Should Magnificent Val falter, northern California shipper Frisco Belle may take advantage. Frisco Belle has won two of her four career turf starts, including the Chandler Handicap on this course in November. Moonlit Maddie and Aspen Hill are the best of the local contingent. They have battled and traded victories many times.