12/23/2005 12:00AM

Triple Crown hopes running high

Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner Stevie Wonderboy will make his 3-year-old debut in the San Rafael at a mile on Jan. 14 - a big step on the road to the Kentucky Derby.

ARCADIA, Calif. - When Declan's Moon, the champion 2-year-old male of 2004, was knocked off the Kentucky Derby trail in March, California's contingent of 3-year-old prospects appeared to take a hit. The group, as a whole, drew little respect going into the 2005 Kentucky Derby. But when California-based runners, including the victorious Giacomo, took four of the first six spots in the Derby, it caused a re-evaluation of Santa Anita's spring preps.

It might be wise to get on board early this year, because the California-based 3-year-old crop of 2006 appears to be the strongest in the nation.

Led by probable Eclipse Award winners Stevie Wonderboy and Folklore, the early favorites for both the Derby and Kentucky Oaks are based here. And there is plenty of depth among the colts and fillies. In addition to Stevie Wonderboy, who won the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, top Derby prospects include Brother Derek, who was fourth in the Juvenile and then took the Hollywood Futurity, as well as highly regarded Your Tent or Mine, Bob and John, and A.P. Warrior. In addition to Folklore, who won the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies, the West Coast-based fillies include Wild Fit, the Juvenile Fillies runner-up.

Both Stevie Wonderboy and Folklore are scheduled to be in action early at the Santa Anita meeting, which opens on Monday. Stevie Wonderboy will attempt two turns for the first time in the Grade 2, $150,000 San Rafael Stakes at one mile on Jan. 14. Folklore will make her first start as a 3-year-old two days later, in the Grade 2, $150,000 Santa Ynez Stakes at seven furlongs on Jan. 16.

Stevie Wonderboy is expected to race approximately once a month this meet. Santa Anita's stakes schedule affords multiple opportunities for 3-year-olds. Those who are ahead of the curve, like Stevie Wonderboy, can start off in the San Rafael, then move onto such races as the $100,000 Sham Stakes at 1 1/8 miles on Feb. 4; the Grade 2, $200,000 Santa Catalina Stakes at 1 1/16 miles on March 4; and/or the Grade 2, $250,000 San Felipe Stakes at 1 1/16 miles on March 18.

Those who get a slightly later start, such as Kilimanjaro, an impressive maiden winner last summer at Saratoga, can start off in the Grade 2, $150,000 San Vicente Stakes at seven furlongs on Feb. 12 before stretching out around two turns. Regardless, all roads lead to the Grade 1, $750,000 Santa Anita Derby on April 8, and then the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs on May 6.

Stevie Wonderboy is working regularly, and between works "jogs a mile and a half and gallops a mile and a half every day," said his trainer, Doug O'Neill. "Fortunately, you can throw a lot at him."

O'Neill also has a promising prospect in Plagiarist, a California-bred who recorded a 103 Beyer Speed Figure when capturing his debut at Hollywood Park on Dec. 17. He will make his next start in the Sunshine Millions Dash at six furlongs on Jan. 28 at Santa Anita.

"We gelded him a few months back because he's so high-strung," O'Neill said. "This race is attractive because it's in our backyard."

Brother Derek, the Hollywood Futurity winner, may take on Stevie Wonderboy in the San Rafael, or he could await the Grade 3, $250,000 El Camino Real Derby at Bay Meadows on Jan. 29.

"The races are two weeks apart, so he would have four to six weeks from the Futurity," said Dan Hendricks, who trains Brother Derek. "It will depend on the weather, and whether he needs four or six weeks between starts. He's a good horse with minimal wear and tear going into the new year."

Your Tent or Mine, who was second to Brother Derek in the Futurity, is also under consideration for the San Rafael, as is third-place finisher Bob and John.

Bob Baffert, who trains Bob and John, has a number of promising Derby prospects, some of whom have yet to race. Point Determined and the imposing Point of Impact, both sons of Point Given, and Royal Legacy, a son of Monarchos, all are maidens who will run early in the meet. "It's like LAX at Thanksgiving," Baffert said. "They're all sitting on the tarmac, ready to fly."

Point Determined and Royal Legacy were entered in Monday's sixth race at Santa Anita, which also attracted Cindago, a John Sadler-trained colt who finished second in his lone start on Nov. 5.

Enforcement, who won last summer before going to the sidelines, should be back in February, Baffert said. He also has high hopes for Wanna Runner, who won a maiden race going long at Hollywood. Another recent maiden winner, Only in Louisiana, chipped a knee and is off the Derby trail.

Trainer Eoin Harty said that A.P. Warrior, the Futurity's fourth-place finisher, should come back in either the San Rafael or the Sham. Harty has another one to watch in Twisting Road, who won a maiden race at Hollywood Park. "I'll go conservatively with him, look for an allowance race, and work slowly up to the big leagues," Harty said.

Richard Mandella sent out Peace Chant and Refinery for maiden victories at Hollywood Park. Both are pointing for allowance races early at Santa Anita's meet. Refinery is entered in an allowance race on Wednesday against Wanna Runner and Ramsgate, a Bobby Frankel-trained colt who was a sharp maiden winner at Hollywood Park on Nov. 12.

Mandella also has One Union pointing for a comeback in the $75,000 San Miguel Stakes at six furlongs on Jan. 8. One Union, who impressed in his debut last summer at Del Mar, has been sidelined since suffering a minor injury in the Del Mar Futurity, his second start.

Patrick Biancone always seems to have top 3-year-olds in the spring. In addition to Kilimanjaro, who is returning in the San Vicente, Biancone now trains the filly Wild Fit, as well as Sabatini, the third-place finisher in the Hollywood Starlet behind Diplomat Lady and Balance. Sabatini is expected to take on Folklore in the Santa Ynez. Wild Fit will return in the Grade 1, $250,000 Las Virgenes Stakes on Feb. 11, which both Diplomat Lady and Balance are expected to await.