04/02/2002 12:00AM

Timing isn't always everything


ARCADIA, Calif. - Neither Came Home nor Mayakovsky answered any questions Tuesday at Santa Anita, nor were they expected to. Revelations are scarce when horses breeze a half-mile under a hold.

Co-favorites for the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby on Saturday, Came Home and worked in 48.20 seconds, breezing. Mayakovsky worked in 48.20, breezing. Identical times for top-class milers who will attempt the same thing Saturday - carry their speed a mile and an eighth.

Came Home is likely to start favored, while support grows for probable second choice Mayakovsky. Those two head a list of seven probables that includes U S S Tinosa, Danthebluegrassman, Easy Grades, Jack's Silver, and Lusty Latin. The $750,000 Derby is not a two-horse race, nor is the favorite a slam dunk.

Came Home benefited from a tepid pace March 2, when he won the one-mile San Rafael. The presence of speedster Mayakovsky assures quick fractions for the Santa Anita Derby. Complicating the issue for Came Home was a stall incident and subsequent nuclear scan last month that caused temporary delay in his training regimen. Further, the colt, 5 for 6, has been getting hot before workouts, and did so again Tuesday.

Chris McCarron worked Came Home, and kept a firm hold on the colt throughout. The time was slow by design, yet trainer Paco Gonzalez became irritated when asked about the clocking. "It was just a work," snapped Gonzalez, "what do you want, 46, 45? He's going a mile and an eighth, not six furlongs."

Came Home is by Gone West, and out of the good sprint mare Nice Assay. If there is doubt about Came Home's distance potential, the same applies to Mayakovsky. A son of Matty G, Mayakovsky returned from a six-month layoff March 17 at Aqueduct to win the one-mile Gotham by nearly four lengths. His trainer, Patrick Biancone, recognizes the challenge facing Mayakovsky.

"Everyone knows he is an unbelievable horse," Biancone said. "But unbelievable to do what - be a sprinter? Be a miler? Go further? He's a real miler at this stage."

To go to the Kentucky Derby, Biancone said, Mayakovsky must convince him and jockey Pat Valenzuela that "he can go the extra furlong. If he can't, he'll go to the Met Mile."

Tuesday, Valenzuela worked Mayakovsky a half-mile. Just as McCarron had on Came Home, Valenzuela kept Mayakovsky under a firm hold. It was the first time Valenzuela had worked Mayakovsky.

"He reminds me of a black horse I rode back in 1989," Valenzuela said, referring to Kentucky Derby-Santa Anita Derby winner Sunday Silence. Mayakovsky "is a push-button horse, so it's easy to get everything right. I think he'll be very tough. Came Home better have his running shoes on," said Valenzuela.

Mayakovsky will try to do something no horse this meet has done - win a nine-furlong race wire to wire. The distance, however, does not compromise speed. Six of the eight winners were positioned within two lengths of the lead after a half-mile. Came Home is likely to be tucked just off Mayakovsky, with Danthebluegrassman in close pursuit. Trainer Bob Baffert said Danthebluegrassman is not expected to contest the fractions.

"Mayakovsky and Came Home . . . those are two fast horses," Baffert said. Danthebluegrassman "is not as fast as those horses. You can rate him as long as somebody good is in front of him."

- Tracemark remains undetermined as a Santa Anita Derby starter. He finished a distant fourth at odds of 27-1 in the San Felipe, and would have had to be supplemented to the Santa Anita Derby for $30,000. According to trainer Craig Dollase, the option for Tracemark was the California Derby April 13 at Bay Meadows.