01/20/2009 1:00AM

Taking it slow with The Pamplemousse

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ARCADIA, Calif. - The Pamplemousse, who joined the list of California-based Triple Crown contenders with a victory in the Grade 3 San Rafael Stakes at Santa Anita last Saturday, is likely to have only one race before the $750,000 Santa Anita Derby on April 4.

Trainer Julio Canani is taking a cautious approach to The Pamplemousse's campaign, citing the need to give a growing colt time to develop.

"I don't want to run him too much," Canani said. "He's developing mentally and physically. He's awkward because he's growing and growing."

Canani said The Pamplemousse is unlikely to start in the $200,000 Robert Lewis Stakes on Feb. 7, leaving the $200,000 Sham Stakes over 1 1/8 miles on Feb. 28 and the $200,000 San Felipe Stakes over 1 1/16 miles on March 14 as likely preps for the Santa Anita Derby.

Asked about the Lewis, Canani said, "It's too soon."

The Pamplemousse won his stakes debut in the one-mile, $100,000 San Rafael, leading throughout to win by two lengths over 3-5 favorite Square Eddie, the runner-up in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile last October. The Pamplemousse set a quick pace of 23.04 and 45.97 seconds, which fooled jockey Alex Solis, who thought the colt was going slower. The quick pace led Canani to a near panic.

"You should have seen my expression when I saw the second quarter," Canani said.

But The Pamplemousse had plenty left through the stretch, proving accurate Canani's early impressions.

"The first time I worked him a quarter-mile, I knew he was a nice horse," Canani said.

Now, The Pamplemousse has to prove Canani correct in an ever-important sequence of races.

Loss helped Briecat build win streak

When Briecat finished second by a nose in the Sun Devil Stakes at Turf Paradise in October, trainer Vladimir Cerin lamented an opportunity missed for the filly's second stakes win. But the loss was followed by a three-race winning streak that could go to four races in Saturday's $500,000 Sunshine Millions Distaff at Santa Anita.

If Briecat had won the Sun Devil, she would not have been eligible for an allowance race at Hollywood Park in late October, which she won by leading throughout. The victory ended a five-race losing streak for Briecat and seemed to help her confidence. She later won the Chandler Stakes at Turf Paradise in November and the Grade 2 Bayakoa Handicap at Hollywood Park in December.

"Sometimes, losing isn't all that bad," Cerin said, reflecting on the Sun Devil Stakes.

The Sunshine Millions Distaff is the richest race of Briecat's career. She has won 5 of 10 starts and $226,800 and has thrived around two turns, winning four races at a mile or farther. The Sunshine Millions Distaff, for California-breds and Florida-breds, is run over 1 1/8 miles.

Briecat frequently runs close to the pace. Cerin hopes she can stalk the leaders if the pace is too hot.

"There is other speed in the race, so she'll probably have to stalk," he said. "She looks like she's in really good condition. I would say that if there is not an anti-speed bias, she's probably as good as anyone in the race. Leah's Secret looks like a good mare."

Like Briecat, Leah's Secret represents the Florida-bred team. Trained by Todd Pletcher, Leah's Secret has won her last two starts in Grade 2 stakes - the Chilukki Stakes at Churchill Downs and the Top Flight Handicap at Aqueduct. She will be favored.

The Distaff is the fourth and final Sunshine Millions race at Santa Anita on Saturday. The $500,000 Turf, $300,000 Sprint, and $250,000 Oaks are run earlier on the program.

Zenyatta begins galloping for return

Zenyatta, the unbeaten mare who has not started since winning the Breeders' Cup Ladies' Classic here in October, has begun galloping as part of her preparation for a return to racing, trainer John Shirreffs said.

Zenyatta has been jogging daily at Hollywood Park since Jan. 7 and began galloping earlier this week.

"I want to keep her going forward, but not going too fast," Shirreffs said.

Owned by Jerry and Ann Moss, Zenyatta, 5, is unbeaten in nine starts and has earned $2,144,580. In 2008, Zenyatta won the El Encino Stakes in the first start of a campaign that featured seven stakes wins. She is expected to return to racing in the spring.

Shirreffs has an outstanding 4-year-old filly in Life Is Sweet, who won her California debut in Sunday's Grade 2 El Encino Stakes. Owned by Marty and Pam Wygod, Life Is Sweet was previously trained by Bill Mott on the East Coast, where she placed in two stakes last year.

Life Is Sweet will be pointed for the $200,000 La Canada Stakes for 4-year-old fillies on Feb. 15.

Madeo uninjured in San Fernando

Madeo, who was pulled up on the backstretch of the San Fernando Stakes on Saturday, emerged without injury, Shirreffs said.

Madeo was at the back of the field when jockey Mike Smith pulled him out of the race and stopped him at the end of the backstretch. Madeo was vanned off. Shirreffs said that Smith did the correct thing when the jockey was uncertain if Madeo had taken a bad step.

"I don't think a rider can ever err on the side of caution," Shirreffs said. "That's one decision that has to be made so fast."

A winner of 3 of 10 starts and $347,915, Madeo is best known for winning the Grade 2 Del Mar Derby on turf last August. He will return to racing on that surface, if no complications develop, Shirreffs said.

"We're always cautious until they get back to the track," Shirreffs said.

Nownownow targets Strub Stakes

Nownownow, who pulled an 18-1 upset in the San Fernando, will start in the $250,000 Strub Stakes on Feb. 7, trainer Patrick Biancone said.

The winner of the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf at Monmouth Park in October 2007, Nownownow gave Biancone, 56, his first winner since he returned to training in November following a year-long suspension for possession of an illegal substance, cobra venom, at his Keeneland stable in June 2007.

Nownownow was Biancone's 16th starter since his return.

"It takes a bit of time," he said. "We had to start from scratch."

Mitchell fined for failing to report gelding

Trainer Mike Mitchell has been fined $500 for failing to state on entry forms that Haughty Topper was racing as a gelding in the eighth race Jan. 8.

Haughty Topper finished second in a maiden claimer over 6 1/2 furlongs in his career debut. Haughty Topper was listed as a colt in the program, but the public was notified before the race that he was a gelding.

California Horse Racing Board officials have aggressively fined trainers in recent months that fail to note that a horse is racing as a gelding.

* Stardom Bound, expected to be named the champion 2-year-old filly of 2008 at the Eclipse Awards ceremony in Miami next Monday, worked five furlongs in 1:00.80 at Santa Anita on Monday. She is being pointed for the Grade 1, $300,000 Las Virgenes Stakes over a mile on Feb. 7.