STABLE NOTES BY ED GOLDEN

• THREE-YEAR-OLD PICTURE FUZZY AFTER REBEL STAKES

• GUTIERREZ, ESPINOZA ENJOY BIG DAY AT SANTA ANITA

• LEPAROUX TO RIDE AT KEENELAND STARTING APRIL 5

• CASSIDY’S ‘RETIREMENT’ GREATLY EXAGGERATED

BAFFERT IN ON THE ACTION AS USUAL WITH DERBY HOPEFULS

With the Santa Anita Derby three weeks away and the Kentucky Derby just over six, the focus on 3-year-olds with Triple Crown aspirations comes into sharper focus by the minute, specifically in the aftermath of yesterday’s Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park.

That’s where 28-1 outsider Will Take Charge and 7-2 shot Oxbow finished a head apart in first and second for 77-year-old D. Wayne Lukas, a four-time winner of the Run for the Roses, which unfolds this year on May 4 at Churchill Downs.

Bob Baffert, no stranger to winning the Derby himself with three victories, his last in 2002 with War Emblem, remains a major player despite a disappointing fifth-place finish by 6-5 Rebel favorite Super Ninety Nine, beaten more than eight lengths.

Baffert’s current primary hope would appear to be Robert B. Lewis Stakes winner Flashback, ticketed for the Santa Anita Derby on April 6. The gray son of Tapit suffered his first defeat in the San Felipe Stakes on March 9, but Baffert, as is his wont, was not about to write anything in granite as to future plans for his stable of talented sophs.

“All I know is every weekend we’re going to have some action from here on out,” Baffert said Sunday morning while supervising a handful of drills, including a four furlong workout by two-time Santa Anita Handicap winner Game On Dude, who went in 49.20 under Martin Garcia (Baffert got him in 49 flat).

“He cruised around there like a machine,” Baffert said of Game On Dude, who could make his next start in either the $1.5 million Charles Town Classic on April 20 or the $500,000, Grade I Oaklawn Park Handicap at 1 1/8 miles on April 13.

Should Lukas win the Run for the Roses this year, at 77 he would become the oldest trainer to win the Derby, supplanting Charlie Whittingham, who was 73 when he won with Ferdinand in 1986.

Stevens, who turned 50 on March 6, rides Titletown Five for Lukas in the $800,000, Grade III Sunland Park Derby on March 24. Stevens and Lukas joined forces to win the Kentucky Derby twice, on the filly Winning Colors in 1988 and with Thunder Gulch in 1995.

A nine-length maiden winner going seven furlongs at Churchill Downs last Oct. 28, Titletown Five was second by a neck to the ill-fated Violence at Saratoga last August. Considered a favorite for the Derby, Violence was retired due to a bone fracture to his right front leg after finishing second in the Fountain of Youth Stakes on Feb. 23.

Titletown Five, a Kentucky-bred son of Tiznow, is owned in part by Hall of Fame football players Paul Hornung and Willie Davis.

ESPINOZA, GUTIERREZ ENJOY THREE FOR THE MONEY

Victor Espinoza and Jorge Gutierrez enjoyed unexpected success at Santa Anita yesterday, jockey and trainer both winning three races and joining to capture the Grade II San Luis Rey Stakes with unheralded former claiming horse Bright Thought.

“So far, so good,” said Espinoza, who is represented by agent Brian Beach. “The meet started good for me, I’m winning good races and I’m trying to keep it going all the way through. Yesterday was a really great day. Brian and I are going to work hard the rest of the year.”

Espinoza’s three victories gave him 25 for the meet. His mounts have earned $1,123,940 and he is winning at a highly respectable 21 percent clip.

Gutierrez had his first three-win day since Fairplex Park where he was the meet’s leading trainer last year. The San Luis Rey was his first graded stakes triumph in his 12 years as a trainer.

“Bright Thought came out of the race in good shape, but for now I think we’re going to back off and give him a breather,” Gutierrez said. “He’s had three tough races here (winning each). Our goal probably is the (Grade I, $500,000) Woodford Reserve (Turf Classic) on Kentucky Derby Day. We’re going to supplement to that.”

LEPAROUX TO RIDE AT KEENELAND WHEN MEET STARTS APRIL 5

Julien Leparoux will move his tack from Santa Anita to ride regularly at Keeneland when the Lexington, Ky. meet starts on April 5, agent Joe Ferrer said Sunday morning.

“I will handle his business,” said Ferrer, also the representative of Santa Anita riding leader Rafael Bejarano, who through Saturday held a 61-42 bulge over second-place Edwin Maldonado, winner of three races Saturday.

Through 50 days of Santa Anita’s 71-day meet, two-time Eclipse Award winner Leparoux had 25 wins, 25 seconds, 14 thirds and purse earnings of $1,477,738.

Keeneland’s meet ends April 26, after which the 29-year-old Leparoux will head to Churchill Downs for the Kentucky Derby on May 4.

CASSIDY: MORE WINNERS IMMINENT AFTER DRY SPELL ENDS

With apologies to Mark Twain, reports of Jim Cassidy’s professional demise are “greatly exaggerated.”

The affable New York City native was winless for such a long stretch at Santa Anita this meet, he did get inquiries asking if his training days were over.

Not by a longshot, as his two recent victories attest. Cassidy, a staunch New York Yankees’ fan, last Sunday ended a 37-race winless streak through 46 days of the 71-day meet when In Taylor’s Honor won at a $16.40 payoff, and topped that when Disko Dasko scored on Friday, returning $20.60.

Yesterday, Cassidy sent out 60-1 outsider Jazz On The Beach to finish third in the fourth race, triggering a $3,665 trifecta payoff. And he’s not done yet.

“Nothing’s changed in my training methods,” the 67-year-old Cassidy said. “But I have had two or three people ask me if I was going to retire (laughing).

“But no, everything’s starting to pick up and we have some more bullets to fire before the meet’s over.”

‘SANTA ANITA UNCORKED’ BENEFIT AT SANTA ANITA NEXT SUNDAY

“Santa Anita Uncorked” is available to everyone, “food only” ticket is available for those under 21. All attendees will receive the following: Parking & Admission; Daily Race Program; Wine Tasting; Cuisine Sampling; Art Exhibit; A Souvenir Wine Glass; and Grandstand Seating at The Great Race Place for the Entire Day

Tickets are $60 each and can be purchased on line at www.santaanita.com, or at the track, either in the Grandstand ticket office or at Champions! gift shop, in the East Paddock Gardens.

Sponsored by the Wine of the Month Club, “Santa Anita Uncorked” will offer attendees a great cross section of outstanding cuisine from 25 high-end restaurants and will be supported by 25 wineries.

Proceeds from “Santa Anita Uncorked” will go to benefit the California Retirement Management Account (CARMA), Arcadia High School and the Pasadena Humane Society.

FINISH LINES: Leading rider Rafael Bejarano has been suspended three days (March 22-24) for causing interference on Unusual Lover in the third race on Thursday . . . Multiple turf stakes winner Lady of Shamrock, prepping for next Sunday’s Santa Ana Stakes, worked seven furlongs on Santa Anita’s fast main track Sunday in 1:25.80 for John Sadler. Other Santa Ana probables include A Jealous Woman (Brice Blanc) and Tiz Flirtatious (Julien Leparoux). Mike Smith rides Lady of Shamrock.