12/23/2001 12:00AM

Tiznow will be a tough act to follow

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ARCADIA, Calif. - The role of top California-bred racehorse will not be easy to fill in 2002.

With Tiznow, the two-time Breeders' Cup Classic winner, retired to stud in Kentucky, there is a gaping hole in the state's older-horse division.

There are many pretenders to the king's throne, but it is likely to take most of the Santa Anita meeting to reveal who deserves the top seed.

Tiznow made everything simple last year. As the first California-bred to win a Breeders' Cup race in the 2000 Classic at Churchill Downs, he was the one to follow in 2001.

Even though he missed several months of training with back ailments in the spring and summer, Tiznow was a star in the winter and fall. Wins in the San Fernando Breeders' Cup Stakes and a memorable five-length victory in the $1 million Santa Anita Handicap highlighted his early-season campaign.

When Tiznow returned to racing in the fall, he lost twice before scoring an epic win over Sakhee in the Breeders' Cup Classic at Belmont Park. Though there was a talk of a 5-year-old season, he went to stud, leaving a void.

Tiznow's campaign was not the only highlight for California-breds on a national level in 2001.

Two statebred mares - Gourmet Girl and Lazy Slusan - were stars in a confusing division of older females on the main track. Gourmet Girl, the winner of the Apple Blossom Handicap, is considered the tepid favorite for the division's Eclipse Award.

Golden Ballet, since retired, was the nation's star 3-year-old filly in the first half of the year, winning the Santa Anita Oaks and Las Virgenes Stakes.

Men's Exclusive, an 8-year-old sprinter, finished second in the $2 million Golden Shaheen Sprint in Dubai in March and won two other stakes in Southern California. He will be back.

Officer won the Grade 1 Champagne Stakes and was a deserving favorite in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. He failed in that race, finishing fifth. He lost two races in November and December in California, leaving his form under a cloud going into 2002.

California-breds even excelled over jumps. The 8-year-old gelding Al Skywalker was a 12-length winner of the Grade 1 Carolina Cup Steeplechase in March and later won two other stakes.

But none performed like Tiznow, whose stirring win over Sakhee came before a worldwide audience.

Dolan charts a campaign

Trainer John Dolan watched Tiznow throughout 2001 and even took him on once in the Santa Anita Handicap with Irisheyesareflying. A longshot that day, Irisheyesareflying chased Tiznow to midstretch before fading to finish fourth, beaten 8 1/2 lengths.

While Tiznow went on to national success, Irisheyesareflying had a respectable season, scoring wins in the Longacres Mile and California Cup Classic. Unraced since Nov. 3, Irisheyesareflying has as his first major goal of 2002 the $200,000 San Pasqual Handicap over 1 1/16 miles on Jan. 5.

For Dolan, who is part of the partnership that owns the 5-year-old horse, races such as the Grade 2 San Pasqual Handicap will be an important test.

"The next step up is a definite difference," he said. "We'll see if he can conquer that. I think there is still another little flight above him. He's training sronger and keeping his weight. There's no reason why he shouldn't move forward. The problem with my division is I have to go to the graded stakes."

Dolan has a model he would like to follow in 2002. He was impressed with the way that Guided Tour, a four-time stakes winner in 2001, was managed by owner Morton Fink and trainer Niall O'Callaghan. A similar campaign for Irisheyesareflying, sticking to races from a mile to 1 1/8 miles, makes sense to Dolan.

Hopes for other top members of the Cal-bred older horse division are less clear. Figlio Mio, second in the California Cup Classic, is preparing to re-enter training after a break. Like Irisheyesareflying, he seems best at eight or nine furlongs.

Grey Memo runs in nearly every major stakes for California-breds, but seldom wins. He runs best at Hollywood Park. Old warriors Sky Jack and Budroyale are expected back from injury in the first few months of the year, but their ability in top company is in doubt. Sky Jack has not started since winning the Native Diver Handicap at Hollywood Park a year ago.

Speed galore

Not suprisingly in a state where speed is emphasized, there is no shortage of top-class male sprinters.

Men's Exclusive, who will be 9 in 2002, will attempt to defend his title in the Palos Verdes Handicap at Santa Anita on Jan. 27. Men's Exclusive will be challenged by Stormy Jack, the winner of the On Trust Handicap at Hollywood Park in November, and Ceeband, who won the Cal Cup Sprint and the Grade 2 Triple Bend Breeders' Cup Handicap in 2001.

Bob Baffert trains Stormy Jack, Crescendo, and Gibson County. Crescendo set a track record for 5 1/2 furlongs at Hollywood Park on Dec. 7, while the frontrunning Gibson County is capable of stealing a race.

Echo Eddie and El Dorado Shooter, each a multiple stakes winner last winter and spring, could be a factor if they return to that form. They are working toward a comeback.

Two tiers of females

The older filly and mare division is divided into two groups - those who will try graded stakes and those that stick with statebreds.

Gourmet Girl, who will be pointed to the Breeders' Cup Distaff next fall, will have a limited campaign, according to trainer Pico Perdomo. He said Gourmet Girl may not run until the Apple Blossom Handicap at Oaklawn Park in April.

On a more local front, Queenie Belle, the winner of the Lady's Secret Breeders' Cup Handicap, and Cee Dreams and Favorite Funtime, the first two finishers in the California Cup Matron, are expected for Santa Anita's top stakes.

In the sprint division, Go Go, a five-time stakes winner in 2001, is resting from a minor ankle injury. Trainer Warren Stute said she may return for the Hollywood Park summer meeting.

Jeweled Pirate, a striking winner of the California Cup Distaff, will be one to follow in turf stakes, along with 2001 stakes winner Mimi's Cafe and Top of Our Game.

Native Desert the one to beat

Any California-bred male who wins a turf stakes in coming weeks is just keeping the winner's circle cozy for Native Desert, the winner of the 2001 California Cup Mile.

Road to Slew, who beat Breeders' Cup Mile winner Val Royal last March in the Frank Kilroe Mile, will return for the Crystal Water Handicap for statebreds over a mile on turf on March 24. The race will also draw Spinelessjellyfish, who was second in the Cal Cup Mile, and the durable Flying Rudolph.

Eventually, they must all face Native Desert, who will be 9 in 2002. A millionaire, Native Desert is getting a break, but will return in 2002, assures trainer Juan Garcia.

"Horses come and go, he's still here," Garcia said after the California Cup Mile.

No presence in Strub

While Tiznow dominated the 4-year-old males at Santa Anita last winter, there is no statebred from the foal crop of 1998 who appears poised even to show up in the $400,000 Strub Stakes on Feb. 2, the meeting's top race for the division.

Waingarth, second in the On Trust Handicap, is out with an ankle injury; Revello, a sharp maiden winner for Richard Mandella on Dec. 1, is out with a shin injury; and Romanceishope, the winner of the Del Mar Derby, is being saved for turf races later in the year.

Northern Californians See to Sea and Hoovergetthekeys have erratic form, but are capable of upsets. See to Sea is better on turf. The up-and-coming horse may be Good Cop Bad Cop, who won allowance races at Santa Anita and Hollywood Park in the fall and could be nearing a stakes start.

Above Perfection looking good

Among the 4-year-old fillies for 2002, Above Perfection holds the most promise. Lightly raced in 2001, she ran a second by a neck to Xtra Heat in the Grade 1 Prioress Stakes at Belmont Park on July 4, a race that looks better as time goes by.

Above Perfection later won the Fleet Treat Stakes at Del Mar and has been working well for her return, which may come in Saturday's $200,000 La Brea Stakes.

Among the routers, the allowance race winners Castling (trained by Bill Currin) and Continental Lu (trained by Summer Mayberry) may develop into stars for small stables. Both were impressive winners at Hollywood Park in recent weeks. Elaine's Angel, who was third in the California Cup Matron, has the versatility to run in sprints and routes.

Golden road

Last year, Team Valor Stable and trainer Jenine Sahadi had success Golden Ballet. This year, they are hoping to do the same with Bella Bella Bella who won the restricted Golden Ballet Stakes at Hollywood Park on Dec. 8 to remain unbeaten in two starts.

She is among the leaders of a division that includes the first two finishers of the California Cup Juvenile Fillies, Lady George and Fragrant Cloud. Lady George returned and finish unplaced in the Miesque Stakes in late November, while Fragrant Cloud is being pointed to Friday's $150,000 California Breeders Champion Stakes over seven furlongs. The recent maiden winners Icy Avenue and Super High are worth following.

Trainer Clifford Sise won 2-year-old stakes in 2001 with Moossa's Girl and Asian Adventure, who could be factors later in the year.

Three-year-old males: a toss-up

Officer still heads a confusing group of 3-year-old males for 2002. His career began with such promise with stakes wins at Del Mar and Belmont Park, but losses in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, California Cup Juvenile, and Hollywood Futurity have left his connections - Thoroughbred Corp. and Baffert - the subjects of criticism.

Behind Officer, there is limited depth - at least so far. Yougottawanna, the winner of the California Cup Juvenile, was unplaced in the Hollywood Futurity. Surprized, who was third in the California Cup Juvenile, has not had a recorded workout since early November.

There were a few colts with impressive maiden wins at Hollywood Park this fall who could quickly develop into stars, notably Kedington and Ima Mile High Guy.

Perhaps the most impressive 2-year-old maiden winner at that meeting was Earl of Danby, who won his debut by four lengths in a six-furlong race on Dec. 8. By Smokester, Earl of Danby races for John Toffan and Trudy McCaffery and is trained by Paco Gonzalez.

In what appears to a wide-open year among the 3-year-old statebred male division, Earl of Danby could be one to follow - at Santa Anita and beyond.