01/11/2005 1:00AM

Time to regroup after the deluge

Benoit & Associates
The infield screen tells of Sunday's washout.

ARCADIA, Calif. - Tuesday started like every morning at Santa Anita - dark and wet. It was two days after the cancellation of most of the Sunday card because of unsafe conditions, and the main track remained closed for workouts.

When 17 1/2 inches of rain falls in just two weeks, not much happens in racing. And then at 6 a.m., the rain suddenly stopped. The clouds parted before daybreak, and for the first time in 2005, Southern California horsemen could look into the predawn sky and actually see stars. Finally, the storms had passed.

As a cool breeze pushed rain clouds east, Santa Anita's track superintendent, Steve Wood, smiled and predicted a dry week for a main track that was sealed before the latest storm.

"Not a lot of water got into it, so it should come back really quick," Wood said.

He said he expected the track to be fast by the fourth race on Wednesday. Further, Wood expects agreeable weather through Sunday.

The turf course, however, needs time to dry, and the $75,000 Blue Norther Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at a mile on grass was postponed from Thursday and tentatively rescheduled for Friday.

"We're waiting to see how the turf course recovers before we schedule a turf race," said Mike Harlow, the track's director of racing.

Two dirt stakes that were canceled Sunday - the Grade 3 Santa Ysabel and $100,000 San Miguel - have been rescheduled.

The Santa Ysabel for 3-year-old fillies will be run Sunday, and Sweet Catomine is expected to head a small field in the 1 1/16-mile race. The San Miguel for 3-year-old sprinters will be run Monday. Both races are open only to original nominees.

The wet weather has compromised training, and many key starters face fitness questions in the weekend stakes.

"We haven't been able to condition these horses like we wanted," trainer Wally Dollase said. He starts A.P. Adventure in the Grade 2 El Encino Stakes on Sunday, impressive maiden winner Hot Attraction in the Grade 3 Santa Ynez Stakes on Monday, and 3-year-old Cee's the Point in a California-bred allowance sprint on Thursday.

Rain also has stalled Texcess, one of the circuit's leading 3-year-olds.

"The last 10 days have been bad, but he's a horse with four routes under his belt," said trainer Paul Aguirre, who intends to race Texcess in the $100,000 Golden Gate Derby on Saturday. The backup plan had been the Grade 2 San Rafael Stakes on Saturday at Santa Anita.

Normal training at Santa Anita was expected to resume Wednesday, according to track superintendent Wood, who said he would grade and harrow the track on Tuesday.

"It got a little uneven because of all the rain," Wood said, "so we're going to grade and cut it with a cutting harrow, and that will make it even."

Sweet Catomine galloped twice around the training track late Tuesday morning, as trainer Julio Canani surveyed the conditions.

"With this sun and wind," he said, "this track will dry out in 48 hours." Maybe sooner.

The break in the weather gave Richard Mandella confidence that he could adhere to a normal training schedule with Rock Hard Ten. Winner of the Malibu Stakes, Rock Hard Ten was being considered for the Grade 2 San Fernando Stakes on Saturday as a means to keep fit, but Mandella said Tuesday that he would skip that race and train up to his next start Feb. 5 in the Grade 2 Strub Stakes.

* In the race-7 feature on Thursday, eight older horses race 1 1/8 miles in the two-other-than/optional $62,500 claimer. Front-runner are among the principals.