Many Californians believe that Precisionist deserves to be the 1985 horse of the year.

Precisionist almost certainly will not get that honor; he'll have to settle for the Eclipse Award as champion sprinter. But owner Fred Hooper and trainer Ross Fenstermaker have designs on the 1986 horse-of-the-year title, and today their outstanding 5-year-old launched his campaign for that objective.

He cruised to an effortless victory in the San Pasqual Handicap, running 1 1/16 miles in a swift 1:41 1/5, and showed he is ready for the major challenges ahead of him, notably the $1 million Santa Anita Handicap March 2.

Precisionist won't have many easier afternoons than he did today. Jockey Chris McCarron was able to control his high speed and sit just outside the pacesetter, long-shot Bare Minimum.

They raced head-and-head as they covered the six furlongs in 1:09 4/5 -- a restrained pace for Precisionist. Then, the 3-to-10 favorite drew away steadily to a 4 1/2-length victory over Bare Minimum as track announcer Trevor Denman exclaimed, "It's poetry in motion!"

Precisionist won four major stakes and more than $600,000 last year, but his campaign was compromised by physical problems as well as his headstrong spirit. He would frequently get involved in speed duels that would benefit his local archrival, the stretch-running Greinton.

But he looked like a different type of horse today. "It was good to see him lay a neck behind a horse," Fenstermaker said. "In the past, we've had trouble getting him to rate. Now, he's doing it on his own."

McCarron, too, was delighted by the horse's tractability. "I had one thing in mind," the jockey said, "and that was to get him to relax in the first part. That's the way he's been training -- easily the first part and steadily picking it up. He used to come out smoking but now he's able to relax. He just seems to get better and better. He's as good as ever now."