10/02/2002 11:00PM

Two items on his agenda before retiring

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ARCADIA, Calif. - When he is at the top of his game, there are fewer sights more striking than Swept Overboard bearing down on his rivals. With his near-white coat, powerful stride, and late-running style, Swept Overboard can be breathtaking.

He was just that in last year's Ancient Title Breeders' Cup Handicap, as he was in this year's Metropolitan Handicap. They are the highlights of an 18-race career that has two more stops, beginning with a defense of the Grade 1, $200,000-added Ancient Title on Saturday at Santa Anita's Oak Tree meeting.

Swept Overboard will be retired following the Oct. 26 Breeders' Cup Sprint at Arlington Park, and will head to Japan for stud duty next spring. But the deal sending Swept Overboard to Japan allowed him to race twice more, so eager were trainer Craig Dollase and owner Paul Reddam to give the 5-year-old horse a shot at a year-end championship.

The Ancient Title, the third race on the card, will be Swept Overboard's first start since the Met Mile on May 27. He missed a month of training after that race with an injury that Dollase describes as minor, but which he declines to reveal. Regardless, Dollase said Swept Overboard has been training sharply in recent weeks at Hollywood Park, and he faces a field in the Ancient Title that should flatter his stretch kick.

"He's doing really well," Dollase said Thursday morning. "I'm hoping there's plenty of pace. He tends to be at the mercy of pace, but it looks like there'll be a legitimate pace."

The six-furlong Ancient Title has the wickedly fast ex-claimer Rio Oro, front-running Explicit, the speedy mare Kalookan Queen, and pace-presser Crafty C.T. Swept Overboard and Mellow Fellow will trail.

The biggest absence in the Ancient Title is Kona Gold, who trainer Bruce Headley announced long ago would skip this race in order to head fresh into the Breeders' Cup Sprint. In last year's Ancient Title, Swept Overboard, carrying 11 pounds less than Kona Gold's 127-pound impost, won by 2 1/2 lengths while earning a Beyer Speed Figure of 122.

"I think that was the highest Beyer of the year," Dollase said. "That was a strong field. I'm not sure this field is as tough, but we're coming off a layoff this time."

Headley was not happy with the weight spread Kona Gold had to give Swept Overboard last year, and he was even more upset with this year's spread between Swept Overboard and Kalookan Queen. Swept Overboard carries 121 pounds, Kalookan Queen 119, but since mares get a three-pound weight break at this time of year in sprints, Kalookan Queen is the scale highweight.

Kalookan Queen beat moderate males such as Ceeband and Elaborate earlier this year in the Potrero Grande Breeders' Cup Handicap. She most recently won the Rancho Bernardo Handicap at Del Mar.

"Isn't the Met Mile the most prestigious mile in the country? Isn't it worth more than the Rancho Bernardo?" Headley asked, his sentence spiced with occasional expletives. Headley said he decided to run Kalookan Queen in this race because there are no graded stakes races on dirt and exclusively for fillies and mares during Oak Tree.

Headley said Kalookan Queen would not run in the Breeders' Cup, regardless of her performance Saturday.

Crafty C.T. won an optional-claimer at Del Mar on Aug. 30 and never has finished worse than second in five starts at Santa Anita.

Explicit, who is based in Southern California but has traveled for his last six starts, is winless in seven races at Santa Anita.

Rio Oro was second in the restricted Pirate's Bounty Handicap at Del Mar on Sept. 7.

Mellow Fellow is winless in three starts on this circuit since arriving from northern California.