Things have gone from green to lean for the Paco Gonzalez barn. At Santa Anita last year, the trainer from Yahualeca, Mexico, who turns 58 on Mar. 17, was winning races with his usual regularity. The barn's breadwinner was Came Home, who captured the Santa Anita Derby (gr. I) among other stakes and was named Horse of the Meet in the annual media poll.Through 55 days of the current 85-day winter/spring meet, Gonzalez has won only two races from 22 starters. He hopes to catch lightning in a bottle Sunday when he sends out Buckland Manor in the $250,000 San Felipe Stakes (gr. II) for 3-year-olds at 1 1/16 miles. The 66th edition of the San Felipe, won last year by Medaglia d'Oro, is a major steppingstone to the April 5 Santa Anita Derby (gr. I) and has proven an important prep to the Kentucky Derby (gr. I).For instance, Point Given, the 2001 San Felipe winner, was favored in the Run for the Roses, only to finish fifth, but went on to gain Horse of the Year honors. Fusaichi Pegasus, who won the San Felipe three years ago, went on to win the 2000 Kentucky Derby.Gonzalez does not expect a similar scenario for Buckland Manor, a son of grass specialist Bien Bien."There was a grass race in the (condition) book for him on Friday, but John (co-owner John Toffan) thought we should give the San Felipe a try," Gonzalez said at his barn Wednesday morning. "This horse is all right," Gonzalez said of his Kentucky homebred who broke his maiden by five lengths on Jan. 26. "In his last race (an allowance Feb. 20 when he was third by 4 ¼ lengths behind Atswhatimtalknbout), I lost like five, six days of training because he popped a quarter crack. But now the horse is doing good. It looks like a tough race, but John wanted to try him one more time."
As for the slow meet, Toffan had rendered a pessimistic forecast in December. Unfortunately for the stable, it's come to pass. "We've got nothing," Gonzalez said. "All we've got is 2-year-olds. Some of them might make it (to the races) at Hollywood. We don't know. John doesn't like to rush. Last year we had a lot of older horses. This year, we only have about eight."Probable for the San Felipe: Atswhatimtalknbout, David Flores; Brancusi, Tony Farina; Buckland Manor, Mike Smith; Buddy Gil, Gary Stevens; Domestic Dispute, Jerry Bailey; Flirt with Fortune, Corey Nakatani; Logician, no rider; Man Among Men, Alex Solis, Ten Cents A Shine, Pat Valenzuela, and Siberland, Tyler Baze.