08/25/2007 12:00AM

After Market resumes march to Cup

Alex Evers/Horsephotos
After Market goes for his fourth straight win in the Del Mar Handicap.

DEL MAR, Calif. - All it took was some rain in Illinois to transform a historically irrelevant California turf race into one with national significance.

Two weeks after he scratched from the Arlington Million because of course condition, After Market resumes his campaign Sunday in a 1 3/8-mile turf race that was not on his original itinerary. Of course, the Grade 2 Del Mar Handicap rarely is in the long-range plans of any horse with Breeders' Cup aspirations.

But for After Market, the $250,000 race is viable backup that will be run over his preferred footing - firm. And it is a race that will help determine where exactly After Market ends his career.

"It's getting close to Breeders' Cup, so it's time to start thinking about what race would be his best chance," trainer John Shirreffs said, referring to the 1 1/2-mile BC Turf and the BC Mile. Shirreffs said the Del Mar Handicap "will give us a clue as to which race, which distance, would be better for him."

Marty and Pam Wygod own and bred After Market, whose three-race win streak includes two Grade 1's - the Eddie Read Handicap at Del Mar and Charles Whittingham Handicap at Hollywood Park. But when it was time early this month for After Market to travel, the weather did not cooperate.

After Market shipped to Arlington Park on Aug. 7 and scratched from the Million on Aug 11 when the course came up "good." After Market tried wet going once before, and it set him back so far he did not race again for nearly five months. After Market returned to California on Aug. 14, and went right back into training.

How did all the shipping affect After Market?

"No factor," Shirreffs said, and he is supported by the colt's confident mannerisms and positive appearance.

A dark bay son of Storm Cat, out of the Grade 1-winning mare Tranquility Lake, After Market will be heavily favored Sunday under Alex Solis when he stretches out to the longest distance of his career.

"This is a mile and three-eighths, and he's gone a mile and a quarter," Shirreffs noted. "Distance should not be a problem."

Barring the unforeseen, the Del Mar Handicap should be a mere formality for After Market.

Don't tell that to Atlando's trainer Darrell Vienna.

"I'm not conceding After Market is the winner," Vienna said. "If I was, I probably would not be running."

Atlando finished more than 10 lengths behind After Market in the Eddie Read, but that was the first start for Atlando in five months.

"The Eddie Read was just a comeback prep; he'd been away for a long time," Vienna said.

Atlando stretched out to 1 3/8 miles next out in a restricted stakes, and won going away. A graded stakes winner with 7 wins from 21 starts, Atlando is ridden by Martin Pedroza.

Toasted had been off three months when he finished second Aug. 1 to Atlando. Owner Bob Bone and trainer Mike Mitchell are confident that Toasted will improve in his second start since being gelded. Bone purchased Toasted after a May 5 race at Arlington.

"The fact he had not been gelded was one of the reasons I bought him," Bone said. Gelding "is Mike Mitchell's specialty. I thought there were reasons he would improve."

But when Toasted was gelded, he did not immediately recover from a surgery that is usually minor.

"It really took a lot of time," Mitchell said. "I lost a lot of time, and I really did run a horse that needed the race."

Racing for the first time in three months, Toasted put in an extended three-eighths run, then flattened out, and finished a 1 1/2 lengths behind Atlando. Michael Baze rides Toasted again on Sunday.

Mitchell won the 2004 Del Mar Handicap with Star Over the Bay, and the 2005 race with Leprechaun Kid. T.H. Approval won the Del Mar Handicap last year.

The field for the Del Mar Handicap also includes Obrigado, Runaway Dancer, Bravo Maestro, Global Genius, and Spring House.