01/08/2004 1:00AM

Take Cruise Along to do just that


New York - A Grade 2 stakes doubleheader at Santa Anita and two stakes for the Derby class of 2004 highlight the stakes action nationwide Saturday.

Sharing center stage at Santa Anita are the $200,000 San Fernando Breeders' Cup Stakes, the middle leg of the Strub Series, which began opening day with the Malibu, and the $150,000 San Gorgonio Handicap for fillies and mares on the turf.

At Golden Gate Fields, 3-year-olds will contest the $100,000 Golden Gate Derby. Gulfstream Park kicks off its series for 3-year-olds with the $100,000 Spectacular Bid Stakes. Both races are Grade 3 events.

The only other graded stakes scheduled for Saturday is the Grade 3, $100,000 Affectionately Handicap at Aqueduct, where the predicted high temperature of 17 degrees is only a little more than the number of Affectionately entrants.

My spotlight stakes follow:

Affectionately Handicap

Cruise Along, a multiple turf stakes winner, ships from Maryland for this, and the betting here says she'll leave town with the money. Cruise Along made a successful transition from turf to dirt in her last start to romp in Laurel's Geisha Handicap. Although that was her first win on dirt and the race was restricted to Maryland-breds, her performance was no fluke. That was Cruise Along's first attempt on dirt since early 2001, when she was still a maiden, and she is clearly a much better horse now. Moreover, Cruise Along spread-eagled her field, winning by a widening 4 1/2 lengths to earn a Beyer Speed Figure of 101. No other member of this Affectionately field has ever broken the triple-digit Beyer barrier.

Between Golden Damsel, River Cruise, and Dancen in the Sun, there is plenty of early speed in this spot to set up Cruise Along's late run. Yet, with her shipping from a "lesser" circuit and moving from a Maryland-bred race into open company, Cruise Along's odds may still be decent.

Sandpiper Stakes

Between Santa Anita and Gulfstream, Tampa Bay Downs doesn't get much play. But the track put up an interesting stakes here, with a full field and a solid betting opportunity in Atti Girl Fergie.

Atti Girl Fergie really should be unbeaten in her two starts coming into this race. But after galloping in her debut at Calder in late November, she was an unlucky loser there last time out. After a slow start, Atti Girl Fergie was making what looked like a winning move nearing the stretch of that allowance race, only to be carried six or seven wide into the stretch. Then, once she cleared the opponent who carried her out, she ran sideways toward the inside. With it all, Attie Girl Fergie was beaten only a head in the last jump.

Atti Girl Fergie's ability to close fits well with the pace set up Saturday, and she should only be a tougher customer from the experience gained in that hard-luck loss last time out, a loss that may actually inflate her odds a little this time.

San Fernando

As is the case with the first two spotlight races, this race is loaded with early speed. Excessivepleasure is very dangerous, even off a two-month layoff, but he's going to have to be sent from the rail, especially with the stretch-out sprinter Watchem Smokey and the speedy During breaking right to his outside. I'm taking the stretch-running Senor Swinger, a multiple stakes winner on turf, to make a successful surface switch back to dirt.

Senor Swinger handled dirt well enough, winning the first two starts of his career, and in the second half of his 2003 campaign was competitive against horses that arguably were tougher than those he faces Saturday. The thing that jumps off the paper regarding Senor Swinger, however, aside from the projected pace suiting a runner with his style, is that he gets blinkers Saturday on the heels of two strong bullet works over the track. Also, the barn has ridiculously strong statistics, in win percentage and return on investment, with runners adding blinkers for the first time.