09/04/2005 11:00PM

All eyes turn to One Union

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Trainer Bill Currin and Bashert, the most experienced horse in the Del Mar Futurity, on Monday morning.

DEL MAR, Calif. - As good as the Del Mar Futurity is, the traditional closing-day feature here at Del Mar can't help but leave one feeling melancholy. There is no What a Song, the ill-fated colt who was the undisputed leader of the West Coast's 2-year-olds. In turn, there is no Bob Baffert, What a Song's trainer, who has won this race a record seven times.

What a Song and Baffert loom large over this race. Two of the leading contenders, Bashert and Stevie Wonderboy, each twice gave futile chase to What a Song. Another top contender, A.P. Warrior, is trained by Eoin Harty, who was Baffert's top assistant for many of Baffert's record seven straight wins from 1996 through 2002.

But the one they all may have to beat on Wednesday, when the Grade 2, $250,000 helps bring down a fantastic 43-day meeting, is One Union, who made a spectacular impression in his debut here on Aug. 13, earning a Beyer Speed Figure of 99 defeating maidens.

One Union is trained by Richard Mandella, who ran one-two in this race two years ago with Siphonizer and Minister Eric. Mandella also trained One Union's sire, Dixie Union, whose victories included the Haskell Invitational, Malibu Stakes, and Hollywood Juvenile. Asked on Monday morning at Del Mar to compare the two, Mandella was circumspect.

"Dixie Union was a special horse," Mandella said. "This horse has just run once. Who knows if he's smart enough to step up? But we have to find out."

One Union had trained sharply heading into his debut, and was sent off the 9-5 favorite. He bravely rerallied to win after getting passed in midstretch. But on Wednesday, he must face more experienced runners among his 10 rivals, and stretch his speed from 5 1/2 furlongs to seven furlongs.

Bashert was second to What a Song in the Best Pal Stakes on Aug. 14, and the Hollywood Juvenile Championship. He has four starts, which makes him the most experienced horse in the race, in addition to the most accomplished.

"He's a very mature horse. He acts like an older horse," said his trainer, Bill Currin. "Every race he's run has been a good race. When he ran against What a Song, he didn't quit. He just got outrun."

Stevie Wonderboy was second to What a Song when both made their debuts at Hollywood Park, then was third to him in the Hollywood Juvenile. Stevie Wonderboy then dropped back down to face maidens here on Aug. 6, and handled them easily, winning by four lengths.

"I love that he's had a race over the track," said his trainer, Doug O'Neill.

O'Neill also will send out Jealous Profit, who was second at Calder in his only start two weeks ago. He subsequently was purchased privately by O'Neill's brother, Dennis, for owner Paul Reddam, and was supplemented to this race for $10,000.

"In his one and only start he stood in the gate, came out sideways, and left himself a lot to do," O'Neill said. "He got to the leaders and was a game second. I worked him once. He worked great, but you won't confuse him with a Quarter Horse coming out of the gate. It looks as though as the distances increase, he'll be a horse to be reckoned with."

A.P. Warrior was a four-length winner of his debut at Hollywood Park on July 17. He was scheduled to run in the Best Pal, but he dumped jockey Garrett Gomez as he stepped onto the track for the post parade, then ran off and had to be scratched.

"Something set him off," Harty said. "He's ready to rock and roll now. He's very sharp, very fit."

Harty had thought about sending A.P. Warrior to Saratoga for the Hopeful, but decided against shipping to face Eastern leaders First Samurai and Henny Hughes.

The Pharaoh, like Jealous Profit, is a newcomer from Florida. The Pharaoh was a fast winner of his debut, then was second to In Summation, Florida's best 2-year-old colt, in a stakes race at Calder. He was purchased by trainer Chris Paasch for owner Charles Cono, and was supplemented to the Del Mar Futurity for $10,000.

"We're taking a shot because it looks like there's one or two to beat, not seven or eight," Paasch said. "If you're going to take a shot for a quarter of a million dollars, this seemed like the race to do it."