02/04/2002 12:00AM

These look like Derby pretenders

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NEW YORK - The temptation to overemphasize the results of Saturday's San Vicente Stakes at Santa Anita and the Hutcheson at Gulfstream is certainly understandable. After all, even at this early date, the Kentucky Derby is prominent in the thinking of everyone involved in the game. Heck, the first round of the Kentucky Derby Future Wager is next week. But if you feel yourself weakening to this temptation, here's one word of advice: Don't.

The San Vicente and Hutcheson are, in a technical sense, stops on the road to the Kentucky Derby. But as rich sources of Kentucky Derby candidates go, neither in recent years has exactly been the mother lode. Silver Charm did win the 1997 San Vicente before going on to win the Kentucky Derby and Preakness later that year. His name leaps off the page, however, when you're looking for major Triple Crown horses on the list of San Vicente winners over the last couple of decades.

As for the Hutcheson, the last really serious racehorse to win it was Holy Bull in 1994, and he jumped off the Triple Crown trail after an uncharacteristically poor performance in that year's Derby. You have to go back to 1984 and Swale to find a Hutcheson winner who was a Triple Crown horse. Swale, of course, went on to win the Derby and the Belmont Stakes.

This shouldn't come as a big shock. These are still early season races at only seven furlongs. Nevertheless, the outcomes of the San Vicente and Hutcheson will have some impact somewhere down the road, especially the San Vicente, won by Came Home.

Came Home couldn't have been more impressive. Just when it looked as if he was having trouble keeping up going into the far turn, he jumped back into the bit. Then, in the stretch, he inhaled the previously undefeated Werblin, who was good enough to pop an eye-catching Beyer Figure of 108 winning his second start.

Of course, a big race by Came Home is not exactly news. After winning the Hollywood Juvenile last summer, he shipped east and won Saratoga's Hopeful, and until Officer came along and fooled us all, Came Home was for a time considered the top 2-year-old in the land. He even had an excuse in his only defeat, a seventh in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, because injury forced him to miss what was to be his final prep for that race, the Norfolk.

The trouble with Came Home, at least in context of the Derby, is distance. He is by Gone West, whose get aren't exactly known to run all day, out of the Clever Trick mare Nice Assay, who was a stakes winner at a middle distance, but who sprinted more often than anything else in her racing days.

Before the San Vicente, even his connections said Came Home would concentrate on shorter races. Now, flush with victory, he will get a shot at a two-turn mile next time in the San Rafael.

These Gone Wests like the turf. So instead of thinking about a future wager on Came Home in the Derby, how about a flyer on one for the Breeders' Cup Mile?

In the Hutcheson, Showmeitall's nose win over Monthir was a bit obvershadowed by the flat fourth by the strongly favored Maybry's Boy, who, in the minds of many was the one most likely to emerge from this race to forge a presence on the road to the Derby.

Then again, you had to wonder about Maybry's Boy as a Triple Crown candidate, because before the Hutcheson he won the six-furlong Spectacular Bid Stakes opening day at Gulfstream. This kind of campaign does not fit the profile of the modern day Kentucky Derby winner, and Maybry's Boy's trainer, Shug McGaughey, is no fool. McGaughey's prime Derby candidate, Remsen winner Saarland, isn't accumulating starts in early season sprints. He's waiting for longer races.

So despite a pedigree that suggests distance ability (by Broad Brush from an Alydar mare), Maybry's Boy would at this time have to be considered a closing sprinter.

Mizzen Mast might be Frankel's best

Despite the Bobby Frankel-trained Euchre losing to Redattore in Sunday's San Antonio Handicap at Santa Anita, you still have to like Frankel's position for the March 2 Big 'Cap.

Euchre was hustled to the lead and hounded every step of the way before grudgingly giving in to Redattore.

And thanks to Mizzen Mast, who thoroughly outclassed a solid field of 4-year-olds in Saturday's Strub Stakes at Santa Anita, Frankel still looks good for the Big 'Cap.

In retrospect, it's a bit amusing that there was some talk about Mizzen Mast staying at shorter distances after his win in his first start on the main track in the seven-furlong Malibu opening day at Santa Anita, because he was second last summer in a Group 1 at 1 1/4 miles in France. He clearly had no problem with 1 1/8 miles in the Strub, and we could well be looking at a monster on dirt.