08/23/2001 12:00AM

Baffert: High Demand's a rising turf star

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DEL MAR, Calif. - Best known for his success with horses on the main track, trainer Bob Baffert is convinced he has a budding turf star in High Demand, who won his fifth straight in Wednesday's third race.

Baffert has trained such turf stars as Anet, Caffe Latte, Tout Charmant, Joe Who, and Tuzla.

"He may be the best turf horse I've ever trained," Baffert said. "This is a good horse."

On Wednesday, High Demand won a $76,700 allowance race by a length. Ridden by Gary Stevens, High Demand took the lead from pacesetter L'Effaceur in early stretch and held off Duke of Green, finishing a mile in 1:33.32 for his third win in an allowance race this year.

"Gary said he was looking for other horses," Baffert said.

A 4-year-old, High Demand is owned by John and Betty Mabee's Golden Eagle Farm. By Danzig, High Demand is a California-bred because he was foaled in the state and his dam, Jasmina, was bred back to a California stallion.

Unraced at 2, High Demand won a maiden race for California-breds on dirt and an allowance race on turf last year.

Baffert said the $175,000 California Cup Mile on turf at Santa Anita on Nov. 3 is a long-term goal for High Demand.

Kona Gold back on track

Kona Gold, the 2000 champion sprinter, worked five furlongs in 58.80 seconds on Thursday, preparing for a defense of his Breeders' Cup Sprint crown at Belmont Park on Oct. 27.

Trainer Bruce Headley said Kona Gold is being considered for two prep races - the $200,000 Ancient Title Breeders' Cup Handicap at Santa Anita on Oct. 6 or the $250,000 Forest Hills Handicap at Belmont Park on Oct. 7.

He said weight assignment will determine the plans. "I don't want to carry more than 126," he said.

Kona Gold carried 126 when he beat Caller One by three-quarters of a length in the Grade 2 Bing Crosby Breeders' Cup Handicap on July 22, his most recent start.

"He just keeps barely winning," Headley said.

Thursday's workout was Kona Gold's first serious exercise since that race. "It took him about 30 days to get back," Headley said. "That Caller One made him work. He ran a great race. I've just let him go along with what he wants to do. He didn't want to do much."

Astarita next for Tali'sluckybusride

For a few hours on Thursday, owner Ron Anson and trainer Alfredo Marquez considered starting recent maiden winner Tali'sluckybusride in Sunday's Grade 1 Del Mar Debutante.

But after thinking it through, they decided to pass the $250,000 race in favor of the $100,000 Astarita Stakes over 6 1/2 furlongs at Belmont Park on Oct. 8.

Tali'sluckybusride won her debut by 2 1/2 lengths over 5 1/2 furlongs on Aug. 12.

"It would have been too quick back for her," Marquez said of the Del Mar Debutante.

Without Tali'sluckybusride, a field of six is likely for the Debutante, run over seven furlongs. The favorite will be Tempera, who won the Grade 2 Sorrento Stakes on Aug. 4.

She faces Habibaty, an impressive maiden winner trained by Bob Baffert; Respectful and Roaring Blaze, who were second and third, respectively, in the Sorrento; and Lil Miss Hollywood and Who Loves Aleyna.

Astra, Startac on the block?

Both Astra and Startac, Grade 1 winners who were among nine horses transferred from trainer Simon Bray to Laura de Seroux on Wednesday, could be sold later this year, according to Michael Paulson, the executor of the Allen Paulson Living Trust, which owns both horses.

Although Michael Paulson emphasized that a decision has not been finalized, he said there is a possibility that Astra, one of the top females racing on turf this year, could be sold and that the Paulson Trust may not have a racing operation next year.

"We're strategizing right now as far as Astra's racing and breeding career," he said. When asked if the Trust would be active in racing next year, he said, "That's something we're also strategizing."

Paulson, the son of the late owner and breeder, said Startac and Astra will be pointed to the Breeders' Cup - Astra to the Filly and Mare Turf and the 3-year-old Startac to the Turf.

Paulson declined to elaborate on specific reasons why the horses were transferred from Bray, who was a private trainer for the Paulson family when he opened a stable in early 1999.

"It's personal in nature in terms of the Trust," Paulson said.

Bray opened a public stable earlier this year, and continues to train for Allen Paulson's wife, Madeleine.

Madeleine Paulson visited Bray's barn at Del Mar on Thursday where she has horses racing under the stable name Action Racing.

Next step for Tribal Rule

Tribal Rule, the eight-length winner of a maiden race on Aug. 4 in his first start of the year, makes his debut against winners in a $53,000 allowance race over six furlongs on Saturday.

Trained by Julio Canani, Tribal Rule is considered a contender for the Breeders' Cup Sprint, according to co-owner Marty Wygod.

In his maiden race, Tribal Rule earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 109.

The big speed figure has not scared off the competition. Tribal Rule faces seven others in the allowance race, including Mr. Wonderful, who was second in a similar race on Aug. 10.

Go to Del Mar coverage.