09/07/2003 11:00PM

Baffert streak on line in Futurity

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Benoit & Associates
Perfect Moon, with seven starts and two stakes wins, is the most experienced in the Futurity field.

DEL MAR, Calif. - When Bob Baffert began his record streak in the Del Mar Futurity, he was assisted by Eoin Harty. Now that Harty is training his own string, he has a chance to bring Baffert's streak to an end.

Baffert has won seven consecutive runnings of the Del Mar Futurity, which annually brings Del Mar's 43-day summer season to a close, as it will again on Wednesday. Baffert won with Silver Charm in 1996, and continued with Souvenir Copy, Worldly Manner, Forest Camp, Flame Thrower, Officer, and, last year, Icecoldbeeratreds, who was one of five runners Baffert had in the 2002 field.

This year, Baffert is down to just one horse. It is up to Cooperation, who won a maiden race in his second and most recent start, on Aug. 17, to keep that streak alive. But Harty stands in his way with Gulf of Mexico, who was a dazzling debut winner on Aug. 18.

The Del Mar Futurity, a Grade 2, seven-furlong race with a purse of $250,000, drew only five runners. The lack of quantity, however, is made up for by the depth of quality. The field also includes Perfect Moon, who won the Hollywood Juvenile Championship and Del Mar's Best Pal Stakes in his last two starts, and both Minister Eric and Siphonizer, who scored promising victories against maidens here this summer for trainer Richard Mandella.

Mandella is going for a sweep of this season's top 2-year-old races, having already captured the Del Mar Debutante with the unbeaten filly Halfbridled.

Both Cooperation and Siphonizer made their debuts in a maiden race on Aug. 2. Siphonizer showed high speed that day to outrun Cooperation and win by three-quarters of a length. Cooperation came back against maidens and rolled to a seven-length victory. Siphonizer returned in the Best Pal Stakes and ran fifth as the favorite.

Cooperation figures to stalk the early pace, as he has done in his first two starts. Cooperation was ridden by Corey Nakatani in his first start and Mike Smith in his second. Baffert is bringing in Jerry Bailey for the Futurity.

Gulf of Mexico might be the fastest horse in the race, and certainly is the one to catch. He has been held in high regard by Harty and his staff since well before his debut. Asked one morning in early August if he had worked any superstars that morning, Harty said, "I hope so." Gulf of Mexico had worked five furlongs out of the gate in 59 seconds that day.

He ran to his works in his debut two weeks later. Gulf of Mexico showed sharp speed going 5 1/2 furlongs and cruised home 4 1/2 lengths best under David Flores, who rides back on Wednesday.

Siphonizer beat both Cooperation and Minister Eric in his debut, but did not get a clear run in the Best Pal while stuck with the inside post.

"You wouldn't really want the 1-hole, but there's nothing you can do about it," said Becky Witzman, the top assistant to trainer Richard Mandella, who like Baffert and Harty was at the Keeneland yearling sales on Monday.

Minister Eric won his third lifetime start on Aug. 24. He added Lasix for the first time that day. He beat Odds On, who returned to beat maidens on Saturday.

"The extra distance should help him more than anything," Witzman said.

Perfect Moon is the most experienced and accomplished runner in the race, with seven starts, including two stakes victories. This past week, he was sold by Mel Stute, his previous trainer and co-owner, for $600,000, a huge price for a gelding.

Perfect Moon was bought by Royce Jaime, whose trainer is Doug O'Neill. Monday morning, O'Neill took a page from Stute's book and gave Perfect Moon a sharp three-furlong blowout of 35.20 seconds.