02/05/2004 1:00AM

True comeback for Toccet?


ARCADIA, Calif. - Toccet went from being one of the nation's top 2-year-olds of 2002 to a bust at 3 last year.

Through injury and questionable management, Toccet managed only one stakes win last year, a minor race at Philadelphia Park, compared to four graded stakes wins in 2002.

This winter at Santa Anita, Toccet has shown flashes of his 2-year-old form. The test will come in Saturday's $300,000 for 4-year-olds over 1 1/8 miles.

The Strub is Toccet's third start of the Santa Anita meeting. He finished a dismal 11th in the Grade 1 Malibu Stakes at seven furlongs on Dec. 26 but rebounded to finish second in the Grade 2 San Fernando Breeders' Cup Stakes at 1 1/16 miles on Jan. 10.

The San Fernando was a prep for the Strub, where Toccet has a chance to score his first graded stakes win since the 2002 Hollywood Futurity 14 months ago.

Toccet's runner-up finish to During in the San Fernando has encouraged trainer John Scanlan and owner Daniel Borislow, who watched in frustration as one experiment after another failed for Toccet in 2003.

"I couldn't ask him to be better than he is at this moment," Scanlan said.

In 2002, Toccet won the Champagne, Laurel Futurity, Remsen Stakes, and Hollywood Futurity, but missed the championship when he finished ninth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile at Arlington Park. Juvenile winner Vindication was named division champion.

After the victory in the Hollywood Futurity, Toccet was sidelined with an ankle injury that kept him out of the 2003 Triple Crown.

A colt by Awesome Again, Toccet did not return until late summer, and spent the rest of the year trying to restore his reputation as a leading member of the division. Little worked.

In seven starts in a little more than four months, from mid-August to late December, Toccet had one win and earned $92,180.

"It took him a lot longer than I thought to get ready," Scanlan said.

The high points were a win in the Widener Stakes at Philadelphia Park, a second in a minor stakes at Laurel in November, and a third in the Grade 1 Cigar Mile at Aqueduct.

The low points were eighth-place finishes in the Goodwood Breeders' Cup Handicap and Breeders' Cup Turf at the Oak Tree at Santa Anita meeting, a fifth in the Pennsylvania Derby, and the Malibu.

Scanlan regrets the starts in the Pennsylvania Derby and the BC Turf. The Pennsylvania Derby on Sept. 1 came 13 days after Toccet won the restricted Widener Stakes at Philadelphia Park in his 2003 debut.

"We wanted to get him ready for the Pennsylvania Derby," Scanlan said. "We asked too much, too soon."

After he finished 9 1/4 lengths behind Pleasantly Perfect in the Goodwood, Toccet's Breeders' Cup hopes appeared over. Instead, he started as a longshot in the BC Turf but was never a factor, finishing eighth.

"We wanted to give the grass a shot, but that wasn't the time," Scanlan said. "That's over."

In four starts since that race, Toccet's only poor performance came in the Malibu. He was never close in that race and finished 13 1/4 lengths behind Southern Image.

"He didn't like seven-eighths of a mile in the mud," Scanlan said.

In the San Fernando, Toccet raced wide but was beaten only a length. "He didn't have a good trip," Scanlan said. "This time I'd like to see him get clear sailing and see what he has to say."

Scanlan is hoping the stretch to 1 1/8 miles in the Strub will give Toccet his sixth stakes win and put him closer to a start in the $1 million Santa Anita Handicap on March 6.

"I'm looking for a real good year this year," Scanlan said. "I'm looking for the roll to get started."