03/09/2007 12:00AM

Well-bred C'Mon Tiger steps up

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ARCADIA, Calif. - No colt running Sunday at Santa Anita has more valuable bloodlines than C'Mon Tiger, sired by Storm Cat and produced by the dam of Breeders' Cup Classic winner Tiznow. But the question facing C'Mon Tiger is less about pedigree and more about performance.

Specifically, is he good enough to win the $75,000 Santana Mile?

"I was waiting for a two-other-than, but it came up too quick," said Bob Baffert, trainer of C'Mon Tiger. "I am sort of forced to run here."

That might not be a bad thing. Lightly raced C'Mon Tiger continues to improve. Seven older horses will race a mile on dirt in the Santana Mile, and Baffert trains three of them - the 121-pound highweight Preachinatthebar, Backus, and C'Mon Tiger.

The field also includes 2004 Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner Wilko - remember him? - in the second start of a comeback campaign. Wilko has lost 14 straight starts since that Breeders' Cup triumph. Other Santana entrants include Majestic Stream, Yes He's a Pistol, and Raise the Bluff.

C'Mon Tiger, 4, was imported from Europe. His two starts for Baffert include a maiden win and a first-level allowance win.

"It's a step up," Baffert said of the Santana, which goes as race 7. "You can put him on the lead, you can take him back, he's versatile."

He won a Feb. 4 allowance with a 94 Beyer; Backus won a third-level allowance on Jan. 14 with a 97.

Preachinatthebar ran third in the Grade 2 San Pasqual and fourth in the Grade 2 San Antonio. Preachinatthebar has won 9 races and $829,907 from 31 starts for owner Mike Pegram and is the logical horse to beat.

Lowdown on the San Felipe

Cobalt Blue and Noble Court are proven, fast sprinters, but neither has run long. Level Red and Air Commander are proven distance horses, but neither has run fast. Those four will try to join the Derby chase when they race 1 1/16 miles next Saturday in the Grade 2 San Felipe Stakes.

Victor Espinoza will ride Cobalt Blue, who won a strong allowance sprint (97 Beyer) in his Feb. 14 comeback for trainer Doug O'Neill and owner Merv Griffin. Noble Court won the Grade 2 San Vicente on Feb. 11 under Corey Nakatani. Level Red and Air Commander are stepping up in class after ordinary first-level allowance wins around two turns.

Entries dwindling

The first three races on Friday had six entrants each. The first two races Saturday had six and five entrants, respectively. Field sizes may be dwindling, but weekend race cards at Santa Anita recently have offered 10 or more races, including the Sunday card.

Racing secretary Rick Hammerle said the trend could continue if entries are sufficient. "We did it [10-race cards] a handful of times toward the end of the meet last year," he said. "We're looking to do nine most of the time, unless we have an abundance of entries."

The Santa Anita Handicap card had 11 races, followed by 10 last Sunday. Both cards this weekend have 10-race cards.

Hess: Watch out for Chinese Dragon

Chinese Dragon, who flirted with the big boys in the turf division last year before going to the sidelines, is nearing a comeback for trainer Bob Hess Jr., who said, "He'll come back with a vengeance."

Last winter, Chinese Dragon finished third by a head in the Grade 1 Frank Kilroe and second in the Grade 2 Arcadia. Hess said that 6-for-11 Chinese Dragon is in better shape physically now than he was last year.

Quiet Kim, runner-up in the Santa Anita Oaks last winter, is also nearing a return for Hess. She was injured in the Torrey Pines Stakes at Del Mar.

Jack's Kid, an improving sprinter who was scratched from the Phoenix Gold Cup because it came up too soon after his last start, worked six furlongs March 4 and is looking for a spot.

Lingfield-Hollywood connection

The winner of the Winter Derby at Lingfield Park in England on March 24 will be given an automatic berth to the Hollywood Gold Cup, Lingfield officials announced recently.

The Winter Derby, worth approximately $193,000, is run over 1 1/4 miles on a Polytrack surface and is open to 3-year-olds and up. The Gold Cup is for 3-year-olds and up at 1 1/4 miles on a Cushion Track synthetic surface.

* Jorge Chavez took off both mounts Friday due to a sore left knee following a training mishap Thursday. Agent Tommy Ball said the jockey's status was "day to day."

* Arlington Million winner The Tin Man has returned to training at Hollywood Park, and will have his first breeze in the next eight to 10 days, according to trainer Richard Mandella.

- additional reporting by Steve Andersen