09/09/2002 11:00PM

'Tis bittersweet at end, muses Stevens


DEL MAR, Calif. - A few horse vans rolled through the stable area. Most of the stalls in the barns were empty, their residents having already been shipped to Santa Anita. Grooms still on location took their belongings from their tack rooms and had them outside, awaiting loading onto horse vans. Few trainers were around, most having decided to go to Kentucky for Keeneland's yearling sale. One day before Del Mar's closing-day card, the meet looked all but over.

The scene brought back memories for Gary Stevens. Long before he became a Hall of Fame jockey, Stevens and his brother Scott hung around the races as kids in their hometown of Boise, Idaho, where their father trained.

"This is kind of depressing, when the meet ends. It's like somebody died," Stevens said as he walked through the stable area Tuesday morning. "But it was fun, too, when the meet ended at Boise. Me and Scott and four other friends would clean all the stalls after the horses left. We got about 50 cents per stall."

Stevens missed most of this meeting. He rode the first day, but then underwent arthroscopic knee surgery that kept him sidelined until Labor Day weekend.

"It was a costly meet," Stevens said. "My agent, Craig O'Bryan, had a lot of business lined up. I think we missed six stakes winners the first three weeks of the meet. But I enjoyed the meet anyway. I got to spend some time with my kids, and I got to spend a lot of time at the races."

Siberland's smokin

Siberland drew off for an impressive 6 1/2-length victory in Monday's $100,000 I'm Smokin Stakes for California-bred 2-year-olds, making him a leading contender for the California Cup Juvenile at Santa Anita's Oak Tree meeting.

Siberland ($4.60) was favored off a 6 1/2-length victory against maidens in his third career start on Aug. 18. He raced close to the pace when winning his maiden race, but showed more versatility in the I'm Smokin. He settled well back off a blazing opening quarter (20.98 seconds) set by Only the Best, Noble Silence, and Excessive Barb, steadily advanced on the turn, took the lead soon after entering the stretch, and extended his margin without being asked for his best by jockey Laffit Pincay Jr.

"He ran an unbelievable race," said Pincay, who was winning for the third time on the card. "He got bumped pretty good leaving the gate. I was farther back than I wanted to be. He's a good horse. He goes inside. He goes outside. He's one of those who just goes out there and tries."

Siberland covered six furlongs in 1:10.25. Martinblestme rallied for second after taking up at the start. Excessive Barb, who dropped back sharply on the turn after attending the early pace, re-rallied for third.

A gelding by Siberian Summer, Siberland was purchased for a mere $6,000 as a yearling by owner Dennis Weir. He is trained by Kevin Lewis, who brought Siberland to California this summer after training him at his winter base at Turf Paradise.

"He's a nice horse. We knew it from the start," Lewis said. "I thought he was dead fit for his first race at Hollywood, but my training showed up. He just came up short."

Siberland finished fourth in his debut, was second in his next start, also at Hollywood, and now has won two straight at Del Mar.

Siberland is a plain bay whose one distinctive physical trait is a stumpy tail. "It's actually grown quite a bit since I've had him," Lewis said. "It must have been chewed off by another horse when he was a yearling."

This was the second Del Mar stakes victory for Lewis. He also won 1999 La Jolla Handicap with Eagleton.

* Truckle Feature, who is scheduled to ship to New York for Sunday's Futurity at Belmont Park, worked five furlongs in 1:00.40 Tuesday morning.

* Kela, whom trainer Eduardo Inda is considering sending to Belmont for the Jockey Club Gold Cup on Sept. 28, worked three furlongs in 36.80 seconds.

* Trainer Kim Lloyd has had his license suspended by Del Mar's stewards for failure to respond to a charge of violating a financial responsibility rule.

* Trainers Bob Baffert and John Dolan were fined $100 each for having a horse report late to the receiving barn.